Flake speaks for many, while many remain silent.


Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was one of President Trump’s first GOP critics. Rather than tamp down his criticism of the president to run for reelection next year, Flake announced Tuesday he’s retiring. And it’s entirely because of Trump. Flake gave a remarkable speech on the Senate floor that amounted to a heavy-hearted takedown of Trump the president, Trump the philosophy and Trump the man. The Fix has annotated Flake’s retirement speech using Genius. Click on the yellow highlighted text to read, and sign up for an account on Genius to add your own.

Mr. President, I rise today to address a matter that has been much on my mind, at a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than it is by our values and our principles. Let me begin by noting a somewhat obvious point that these offices that we hold are not ours to hold indefinitely. We are not here simply to mark time. Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office. And there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles.

Now is such a time.

It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our – all of our – complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.

In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order – that phrase being “the new normal.” But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue – with the tone set at the top.

We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals.We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country – the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that this is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength – because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.

It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? — what are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes normal. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that.

Here, today, I stand to say that we would better serve the country and better fulfill our obligations under the constitution by adhering to our Article 1 “old normal” – Mr. Madison’s doctrine of the separation of powers. This genius innovation which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 – held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract each other when necessary. “Ambition counteracts ambition,” he wrote.

But what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability? If decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course not, and we would be wrong if we did.

When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do – because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseum – when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

Now, I am aware that more politically savvy people than I caution against such talk. I am aware that a segment of my party believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.

If I have been critical, it not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience. The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters – the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.

A Republican president named Roosevelt had this to say about the president and a citizen’s relationship to the office:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.” President Roosevelt continued. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

Acting on conscience and principle is the manner in which we express our moral selves, and as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party. We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in that regard. I am holier-than-none. But too often, we rush not to salvage principle but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing—until the accommodation itself becomes our principle.

In that way and over time, we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice almost any principle. I’m afraid that is where we now find ourselves.

When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it goes looking for somebody to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to first look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us.

Leadership lives by the American creed: E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. American leadership looks to the world, and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero-sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have also been at our most principled. And when we do well, the rest of the world also does well.

These articles of civic faith have been central to the American identity for as long as we have all been alive. They are our birthright and our obligation. We must guard them jealously, and pass them on for as long as the calendar has days. To betray them, or to be unserious in their defense is a betrayal of the fundamental obligations of American leadership. And to behave as if they don’t matter is simply not who we are.

Now, the efficacy of American leadership around the globe has come into question. When the United States emerged from World War II we contributed about half of the world’s economic activity. It would have been easy to secure our dominance, keeping the countries that had been defeated or greatly weakened during the war in their place. We didn’t do that. It would have been easy to focus inward. We resisted those impulses. Instead, we financed reconstruction of shattered countries and created international organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years.

Now, it seems that we, the architects of this visionary rules-based world order that has brought so much freedom and prosperity, are the ones most eager to abandon it.

The implications of this abandonment are profound. And the beneficiaries of this rather radical departure in the American approach to the world are the ideological enemies of our values. Despotism loves a vacuum. And our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Why are they doing this? None of this is normal. And what do we as United States Senators have to say about it?

The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics. Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.

I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit.

I have decided that I will be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself from the political considerations that consume far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.

To that end, I am announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019.

It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party – the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.

There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal – but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better. Because to have a heathy government we must have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently, and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man, and always look for the good. Until that days comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it. Because it does.

Mr. President, the graveyard is full of indispensable men and women — none of us here is indispensable. Nor were even the great figures from history who toiled at these very desks in this very chamber to shape this country that we have inherited. What is indispensable are the values that they consecrated in Philadelphia and in this place, values which have endured and will endure for so long as men and women wish to remain free. What is indispensable is what we do here in defense of those values. A political career doesn’t mean much if we are complicit in undermining those values.

I thank my colleagues for indulging me here today, and will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healing enmity and preserving our founding values than any other American who has ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in his time, and are no less so in ours:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.


Steele dossier: Report of 9/6/17



Blogger’s Note: This blogger has emphasized certain passages with highlights, etc.

[Editor’s Note: In this special Just Security article, highly respected former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, John Sipher examines the Steele dossier using methods that an intelligence officer would to try to validate such information. Sipher concludes that the dossier’s information on campaign collusion is generally credible when measured against standard Russian intelligence practices, events subsequent to Steele’s reporting, and information that has become available in the nine months since Steele’s final report. The dossier, in Sipher’s view, is not without fault, including factual inaccuracies. Those errors, however, do not detract from an overarching framework that has proven to be ever more reliable as new revelations about potential Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin and its affiliates has come to light in the nine months since Steele submitted his final report.]

Recent revelations of Trump campaign connections to Russia have revived interest in the so-called Steele Dossier.  The dossier is composed of a batch of short reports produced between June and December 2016 by Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based firm specializing in commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients.  The collection of Orbis reports caused an uproar when it was published online by the US website BuzzFeed, just ten days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.  Taken together, the series of reports painted a picture of active collusion between the Kremlin and key Trump campaign officials based on years of Russian intelligence work against Trump and some of his associates.  This seemed to complement general statements from US intelligence officials about Russia’s active efforts to undermine the US election.  The greatest attention was paid to the first report, which conveyed salacious claims about Trump consorting with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013.  Trump himself publicly refuted the story, while Trump associates denied reported details about their engagement with Russian officials.  A lot of ink and pixels were also spent on the question whether it was appropriate for the media to publish the dossier. The furor quickly passed, the next news cycle came, and the American media has been largely reluctant to revisit the report over the months since.

Almost immediately after the dossier was leaked, media outlets and commentators pointed out that the material was unproven. News editors affixed the terms “unverified” and “unsubstantiated” to all discussion of the issue in the responsible media.  Political supporters of President Trump simply tagged it as “fake news.”  Riding that wave, even legendary Washington Post reported Bob Woodward characterized the report as “garbage.”

For professional investigators, however, the dossier is by no means a useless document.  Although the reports were produced episodically, almost erratically, over a five-month period, they present a coherent narrative of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.  As a result, they offer an overarching framework for what might have happened based on individuals on the Russian side who claimed to have insight into Moscow’s goals and operational tactics.  Until we have another more credible narrative, we should do all we can to examine closely and confirm or dispute the reports.

Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken the Orbis reports seriously since they were first published.  This is not because they are not fond of Trump (and many admittedly are not), but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods, and the nature of raw intelligence reporting.  Immediately following the BuzzFeed leak, one of my closest former CIA colleagues told me that he recognized the reports as the obvious product of a former Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officer, since the format, structure, and language mirrored what he had seen over a career of reading SIS reports provided to CIA in liaison channels.  He and others withheld judgment about the veracity of the reports, but for the reasons I outline further below they did not reject them out of hand.  In fact, they were more inclined for professional reasons to put them in the “trust but verify” category.

So how should we unpack the so-called Steele dossier from an intelligence perspective?

I spent almost thirty years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents.  At heart, this is what Orbis did.  They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions.  The difference is crucial, for it is the one that American journalists routinely fail to understand.

When disseminating a raw intelligence report, an intelligence agency is not vouching for the accuracy of the information provided by the report’s sources and/or sub-sources.  Rather it is claiming that it has made strenuous efforts to validate that it is reporting accurately what the sources/sub-sources claim has happenedThe onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting – which may confirm or deny the new report – rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre.  In the case of the dossier, Orbis was not saying that everything that it reported was accurate, but that it had made a good-faith effort to pass along faithfully what identified insiders said was accurate.  This is routine in the intelligence business. And this form of reporting is often a critical product in putting together more final intelligence assessments.

In this sense, the so-called Steele dossier is not a dossier at all.  A dossier suggests a summary or case history.  Mr. Steele’s product is not a report delivered with a bow at the end of an investigation.  Instead, it is a series of contemporaneous raw reports that do not have the benefit of hindsight.  Among the unnamed sources are “a senior Russian foreign ministry official,” “a former top-level intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” and “a close associate of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.”  Thus, the reports are not an attempt to connect the dots, but instead an effort to uncover new and potentially relevant dots in the first place.

What’s most relevant in the Orbis reports?

Let me illustrate what the reports contain by unpacking the first and most notorious of the seventeen Orbis reports, and then move to some of the other ones.  The first 2 ½ page report was dated June 20, 2016 and entitled “Company Intelligence Report 2016/080.”  It starts with several summary bullets, and continues with additional detail attributed to sources A-E and G (there may be a source F but part of the report is blacked out).  The report makes a number of explosive claims, all of which at the time of the report were unknown to the public.

Among other assertions, three sources in the Orbis report describe a multi-year effort by Russian authorities to cultivate, support and assist Donald Trump.  According to the account, the Kremlin provided Trump with intelligence on his political primary opponents and access to potential business deals in Russia.  Perhaps more importantly, Russia had offered to provide potentially compromising material on Hillary Clinton, consisting of bugged conversations during her travels to Russia, and evidence of her viewpoints that contradicted her public positions on various issues.

The report also alleged that the internal Russian intelligence service (FSB) had developed potentially compromising material on Trump, to include details of “perverted sexual acts” which were arranged and monitored by the FSB.  Specifically, the compromising material, according to this entry in the report, included an occasion when Trump hired the presidential suite at a top Moscow hotel which had hosted President and Mrs. Obama, and employed prostitutes to defile the bed where the President had slept.  Four separate sources also described “unorthodox” and embarrassing behavior by Trump over the years that the FSB believed could be used to blackmail the then presidential candidate.

The report stated that Russian President Putin was supportive of the effort to cultivate Trump, and the primary aim was to sow discord and disunity within the U.S. and the West.  The dossier of FSB-collected information on Hillary Clinton was managed by Kremlin chief spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Subsequent reports provide additional detail about the conspiracy, which includes information about cyber-attacks against the U.S.  They allege that Paul Manafort managed the conspiracy to exploit political information on Hillary Clinton in return for information on Russian oligarchs outside Russia, and an agreement to “sideline” Ukraine as a campaign issue.  Trump campaign operative Carter Page is also said to have played a role in shuttling information to Moscow, while Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, reportedly took over efforts after Manafort left the campaign, personally providing cash payments for Russian hackers.  In one account, Putin and his aides expressed concern over kick-backs of cash to Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which they feared might be discoverable by U.S. authorities.  The Kremlin also feared that the U.S. might stumble onto the conspiracy through the actions of a Russian diplomat in Washington, Mikhail Kalugin, and therefore had him withdrawn, according to the reports.

In late fall 2016, the Orbis team reported that a Russian-supported company had been “using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.”  Hackers recruited by the FSB under duress were involved in the operations.  According to the report, Michael Cohen insisted that payments be made quickly and discreetly, and that cyber operators should go to ground and cover their tracks.

Assessing the Orbis reports

What should be made of these leaked reports with unnamed sources on issues that were deliberately concealed by the participants?  Honest media outlets have reported on subsequent events that appear to be connected to the reports, but do not go too far with their analysis, concluding still that the dossier is unverified.  Almost no outlets have reported on the salacious sexual allegations, leaving the public with very little sense as to whether the dossier is true, false, important or unimportant in that respect.

While the reluctance of the media to speculate as to the value of the report is understandable, professional intelligence analysts and investigators do not have the luxury of simply dismissing the information.  They instead need to do all they can to put it into context, determine what appears credible, and openly acknowledge the gaps in understanding so that collectors can seek additional information that might help make sense of the charges.

Step One: Source Validation

In the intelligence world, we always begin with source validation, focusing on what intelligence professionals call “the chain of acquisition.”  In this case we would look for detailed information on (in this order) Orbis, Steele, his means of collection (e.g., who was working for him in collecting information), his sources, their sub-sources (witting or unwitting), and the actual people, organizations and issues being reported on.

Intelligence methodology presumes that perfect information is never available, and that the vetting process involves cross-checking both the source of the information as well as the information itself.  There is a saying among spy handlers, “vet the source first before attempting to vet the source’s information.”  Information from human sources (the spies themselves) is dependent on their distinct access to information, and every source has a particular lens.  Professional collectors and debriefing experts do not elicit information from a source outside of the source’s area of specific access.  They also understand that inaccuracies are inevitable, even if the source is not trying to mislead.  The intelligence process is built upon a feedback cycle that corroborates what it can, and then goes back to gather additional information to help build confidence in the assessment.  The process is dispassionate, unemotional, professional and never ending.

Faced with the raw reports in the Orbis document, how might an intelligence professional approach the jumble of information?

The first thing to examine is Christopher Steele, the author of the reports, and his organization Orbis International.  Are they credible?

Steele was the President of the Cambridge Union at university, and was a career British intelligence officer with service in Moscow, Paris and Afghanistan prior to work as the head of the Russia desk at British intelligence HQS.  While in London he worked as the personal handler of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko.  He was a respected professional who had success in some of the most difficult intelligence environments.  He retired from SIS in 2009 and started Orbis Business Intelligence along with a former colleague.  Prior to his work on the Russian dossier for Orbis, he was best known for his investigation of the world soccer association (FIFA), which provided direct support to the FBI’s successful corruption case.  Steele and Orbis were also known for assisting various European countries in understanding Russian efforts to meddle in their affairs.

Like any private firm, Orbis’ ability to remain in business relies on its track record of credibility.   Success for Steele and his colleagues depends on his integrity, reliability, and the firm’s reputation for serious work.  In this regard, Steele is putting his reputation and his company’s continued existence on the line with each report.  Yes, as with anyone operating in the murky world of intelligence, he could be duped.  Nonetheless, his reputation for handling sensitive Russian espionage operations over the years suggests that he is security conscious and aware of Russian counterintelligence and disinformation efforts.  His willingness to share his work with professional investigative agencies such as the FBI and the British Security Service also suggest that he is comfortable opening his work to scrutiny, and is seen as a serious partner by the best in the business.

The biggest problem with confirming the details of the Steele “dossier” is obvious: we do not know his sources, other than via the short descriptions in the reports.  In CIA’s clandestine service, we spent by far the bulk of our work finding, recruiting and validating sources.  Before we would ever consider disseminating an intelligence report, we would move heaven and earth to understand the access, reliability, trustworthiness, motivation and dependability of our source.  We believe it is critical to validate the source before we can validate the reliability of the source’s information.  How does the source know about what he/she is reporting?  How did the source get the information?  Who are his/her sub-sources?  What do we know about the sub-sources?  Why is the source sharing the information?  Is the source a serious person who has taken appropriate measures to protect their efforts?

One clue as to the credibility of the sources in these reports is that Steele shared them with the FBI.  The fact that the FBI reportedly sought to work with him and to pay him to develop additional information on the sources suggest that at least some of them were worth taking seriously.  At the very least, the FBI will be able to validate the credibility of the sources, and therefore better judge the information.  As one recently retired senior intelligence officer with deep experience in espionage investigations quipped, “I assign more credence to the Steele report knowing that the FBI paid him for his research.  From my experience, there is nobody more miserly than the FBI.  If they were willing to pay Mr. Steele, they must have seen something of real value.”

Step Two: Assessing the Substantive Content

As outsiders without the investigative tools available to the FBI, we can only look at the information and determine if it makes sense given subsequent events and the revelation of additional information.  Mr. Steele did not have the benefit of knowing Mr. Trump would win the election or how events might play out.  In this regard, does any of the information we have learned since June 2016 assign greater or less credibility to the information?  Were the people mentioned in the report real?  Were their affiliations correct?  Did any of the activities reported happen as predicted?

To a large extent, yes.

The most obvious occurrence that could not have been known to Orbis in June 2016, but shines bright in retrospect is the fact that Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election to help Donald Trump, as the U.S. intelligence community itself later concluded.  Well before any public knowledge of these events, the Orbis report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents.

Mr. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate.

The U.S. government only published its conclusions in January 2017, with an assessment of some elements in October 2016.  It was also apparently news to investigators when the New York Times in July 2017 published Don (Trump) Jr’s emails arranging for the receipt of information held by the Russians about Hillary Clinton. How could Steele and Orbis know in June 2016 that the Russians were working actively to elect Donald Trump and damage Hillary Clinton? How could Steele and Orbis have known about the Russian overtures to the Trump Team involving derogatory information on Clinton?

We have also subsequently learned of Trump’s long-standing interest in, and experience with Russia and Russians.  A February 2017 New York Times article reported that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election.

The New York Times article was also corroborated by CNN and Reuters independent reports. And even Russian officials have acknowledged some of these and other repeated contacts. Although Trump has denied the connections, numerous credible reports suggest that both he and Manafort have long-standing relationships with Russians, and pro-Putin groups.  In August 2017, CNN reported on “intercepted communications that US intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort…to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects” including “conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

We learned that when Carter Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, he met with close Putin ally and Chairman of the Russian state oil company, Igor Sechin.  A later Steele report also claimed that he met with Parliamentary Secretary Igor Diveykin while in Moscow.  Renowned investigative journalist Michael Isikoff reported in September 2016 that U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that Page met with both Sechin and Diveykin during his July trip to Russia. What’s more, the Justice Department obtained a wiretap in summer 2016 on Page after satisfying a court that there was sufficient evidence to show Page was operating as a Russian agent.

While the Orbis team had no way to know it, subsequent reports from U.S. officials confirmed that Washington-based diplomat Mikhail Kalugin was an undercover intelligence officer and was pulled out of the Embassy and sent home in summer 2016.

The Orbis documents refer repeatedly to Paul Manafort’s “off-the-books” payments from ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian party, and Russian concerns that it may be a vulnerability that could jeopardize the effort.  According to the Orbis report, the Russians were concerned about “further scandals involving Manafort’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine.” And, indeed, there have been further scandals since the Orbis reports were written. Those include Manafort being compelled in June 2017 to register retroactively as a foreign agent of a pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine, and Mueller and New York Attorney Generals’ reported investigation of Manafort for possible money laundering and tax evasion linked to Ukrainian ventures.

We do not have any reporting that implicates Michael Cohen in meetings with Russians as outlined in the dossier.  However, recent revelations indicate his long-standing relationships with key Russian and Ukrainian interlocutors, and highlight his role in a previously hidden effort to build a Trump tower in Moscow. During the campaign, those efforts included email exchanges with Trump associate Felix Sater explicitly referring to getting Putin’s circle involved and helping Trump get elected.

Further, the Trump Administration’s effort lift sanctions on Russia immediately following the inauguration seems to mirror Orbis reporting related to Mr. Cohen’s promises to Russia, as reported in the Orbis documents.  A June 2017 Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff described the Administration’s efforts to engage the State Department about lifting sanctions “almost as soon as they took office.”  Their efforts were halted by State Department officials and members of Congress.  Following the inauguration, Cohen was involved, again with Felix Sater, to engage in back-channel negotiations seeking a means to lift sanctions via a semi-developed Russian-Ukrainian plan (which also included the hand delivery of derogatory information on Ukrainian leaders) also fits with Orbis reporting related to Cohen.

The quid pro quo as alleged in the dossier was for the Trump team to “sideline” the Ukrainian issue in the campaign.  We learned subsequently the Trump platform committee changed only a single plank in the 60-page Republican platform prior to the Republican convention.  Of the hundreds of Republican positions and proposals, they altered only the single sentence that called for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian military.  The Trump team changed the wording to the more benign, “appropriate assistance.”

Consider, in addition, the Orbis report saying that Russia was utilizing hackers to influence voters and referring to payments to “hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.” A January 2017 Stanford study found that “fabricated stories favoring Donald Trump were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro-Hillary Clinton shares leading up to the election.”  Also, in November, researchers at Oxford University published a report based on analysis of 19.4 million Twitter posts from early November prior to the election.  The report found that an “automated army of pro-Trump chatbots overwhelmed Clinton bots five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election.”  In March 2017, former FBI agent Clint Watts told Congress about websites involved in the Russian disinformation campaign “some of which mysteriously operate from Eastern Europe and are curiously led by pro-Russian editors of unknown financing.”

The Orbis report also refers specifically to the aim of the Russian influence campaign “to swing supporters of Bernie Sanders away from Hillary Clinton and across to Trump,” based on information given to Steele in early August 2016. It was not until March 2017, however, that former director of the National Security Agency, retired Gen. Keith Alexander in Senate testimony said of the Russian influence campaign, “what they were trying to do is to drive a wedge within the Democratic Party between the Clinton group and the Sanders group.” A March 2017 news report also detailed that pro-Sanders social media sites were infiltrated by fake news, originating from “dubious websites and posters linked back to Eastern Europe,” that tried to shift them against Clinton during the general election. John Mattes, a former Senate investigator who helped run the online campaign for Sanders, said he was struck by Steele’s report. Mattes saidSteele “was writing in real time about things I was seeing happening in August, but I couldn’t articulate until September.” It is important to emphasize here that Steele’s source for the change in plan was “an ethnic Russian associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump [who] discussed the reaction inside his camp.”

A slew of other revelations has directly tied many of the key players in the Trump campaign – most notably Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Michael Cohen, and Michael Flynn – who are specifically mentioned in the Orbis reports to Russian officials also mentioned in the reports.

To take one example, the first report says that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was responsible for Russia’s compromising materials on Hillary Clinton, and now we have reports that Michael Cohen had contacted Peskov directly in January 2016 seeking help with a Trump business deal in Moscow (after Cohen received the email from Trump business associate Felix Sater saying “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”).

To take another example, the third Orbis report says that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was managing the connection with the Kremlin, and we now know that he was present at the June 9, 2016 meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, who has reportedly boasted of his ties to ties and experience in Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence.  According to a recent New York Times story, “Akhmetshin told journalists that he was a longtime acquaintance of Paul J. Manafort.”

The Orbis reports chronicle, and subsequent events demonstrate, that the Russian effort evolved over time, adapting to changing circumstances.  When their attack seemed to be having an effect, they doubled down, and when it looked like negative media attention was benefiting Ms. Clinton, they changed tactics.  The Orbis reports detail internal Kremlin frictions between the participants as the summer wore on.  If the dossier is to be believed, the Russian effort may well have started as an anti-Clinton operation, and only became combined with the separate effort to cultivate the Trump team when it appeared Trump might win the nomination.  The Russian effort was aggressive over the summer months, but seemed to back off and go into cover-up mode following the Access Hollywood revelations and the Obama Administration’s acknowledgement of Russian interference in the fall, realizing they might have gone too far and possibly benefitted Ms. Clinton.  However, when Trump won, they changed again and engaged with Ambassador Kislyak in Washington to get in touch with others in the Trump transition team.  As this process unfolded, control of operation on the Russian side passed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the FSB, and later to the Presidential Administration.  It should be noted in this context, that the much-reported meetings with Ambassador Kislyak do not seem to be tied to the conspiracy. He is not an intelligence officer, and would be in the position to offer advice on politics, personalities and political culture in the United States, but would not be asked to engage in espionage activity.  It is likewise notable that Ambassador Kislyak receives only a passing reference in the Steele dossier and only having to do with his internal advice on the political fallout in the U.S. in reaction to the Russian campaign.

Of course, to determine if collusion occurred as alleged in the dossier, we would have to know if the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting.  As mentioned, in February, the New York Times, CNN, and Reuters, reported that members of Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election, according to current and former American officials.  Subsequent reports cite receipt of intelligence from European security agencies reporting on odd meetings between Trump associates and Russian officials in Europe.  And, perhaps the best clue that there might be something to the narrative of meetings in summer 2016 was former CIA Director John Brennan’s carefully chosen phrase in front of the Senate intelligence committee about the contacts – “frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”  This period will likely be the one most closely scrutinized by FBI investigators.

In retrospect, there is even some indication that the salacious sexual allegations should not be dismissed out of hand.  Efforts to monitor foreigners and develop compromising material is completely consistent with Russian M.O.  I am certain that they have terabytes of film and audio from inside my apartment in Moscow.  Putin himself is known to have been implicated in several sex stings to embarrass his rivals, to include the famous broadcast of a clandestinely-acquired sex video to shame then Prosecutor General Yuriy Skuratov.

Perhaps more intriguing, the most explosive charge in the Steele document was the claim that Trump hired prostitutes to defile a bed slept in by former President Obama.  The important factor to consider is that Trump did not engage with the prostitutes himself, but instead allegedly sought to denigrate Obama.  If there is anything consistent in what we have learned about President Trump, it seems that his policies are almost exclusively about overturning and eradicating anything related to President Obama’s tenure.  In this sense, he is akin to the ancient Pharaohs, Byzantine and Roman Emperors like Caligula, who sought to obliterate the existence of their predecessors, even destroying and defacing their images.  Is it inconceivable that he would get some satisfaction from a private shaming of the former President?

Separate Orbis reports also asserted that Trump himself engaged in unorthodox, perverted sexual behavior over the years that “has provided authorities with enough embarrassing and compromising material on the Republican presidential candidate to be able to blackmail him if they so wished.”  While it is not worth serious exploration, the notion that Trump might be involved with beautiful young women as alleged in the reports doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch.  His private life is well documented and litigated, such that it doesn’t seem wholly out-of-bounds to tie the reports about his activity in Russia with his history of undue interest in young women.  Again, there is no means to independently confirm the information and the media shouldn’t try.  An intelligence professional or investigator cannot shy away, however, and should try to ascribe some level of confidence in the information as part of the process of validating the various sources and the overall credibility of the reporting.  If the specific reports prove untrue, it would cast doubt on other reporting from that source.

In these cases, blackmail does not need to be overt to be useful.  Simple knowledge that a potential adversary might have compromising information can influence behavior.  Whether or not his subsequent behavior as a candidate and President is consistent with possible overt or subtle blackmail is beyond my ability to assess or the FBI’s ability to prove, and is instead for each citizen to ponder.  Suffice it to say that Trump’s obsequiousness toward Putin, his continued cover-ups, and his irrational acquiescence to Russian interests, often in direct opposition to his own Administration and Party, keep the issue on the table.

On the other hand, there is also information in the Steele reports that appears wrong or questionable.  For example, the notion that Steele and his team could develop so many quality sources with direct access to discussions inside the Kremlin is worth serious skepticism.  The CIA and other professional intelligence services rarely developed this kind of access despite expending significant resources over decades, according to published accounts.  It is also hard to believe that Orbis could have four separate sources reporting on the incident at the Moscow hotel. The reputation of the elite hotel in the center of Moscow depends on the discretion of its staff, and crossing the FSB is not something taken lightly in Russian society.  A source that could be so easily identified would be putting themselves at significant risk.  Further, additional information in the reports cannot be checked without the tools of a professional investigative service.  Of course, since the dossier was leaked, and we do not have additional follow-up reports, we don’t know if Orbis would have developed other sources or revised their reporting accordingly as they were able to develop feedback.  We also don’t know if the 35 pages leaked by BuzzFeed is the entirety of the dossier.  I suspect not.

* * *

So, more than a year after the production of the original raw reports, where do we stand?

I think it is fair to say that the report is not “garbage” as several commentators claimed.  The Orbis sources certainly got some things right – details that they could not have known prior.  Steele and his company appear serious and credible.  Of course, the failure of the Trump team to report details that later leaked out and fit the narrative may make the Steele allegations appear more prescient than they otherwise might.  At the same time, the hesitancy to be honest about contacts with Russia is consistent with allegations of a conspiracy.

All that said, one large portion of the dossier is crystal clear, certain, consistent and corroborated.  Russia’s goal all along has been to do damage to America and our leadership role in the world.  Also, the methods described in the report fit the Russians to a tee.  If the remainder of the report is largely true, Russia has a powerful weapon to help achieve its goal.  Even if it is largely false, the Kremlin still benefits from the confusion, uncertainty and political churn created by the resulting fallout.  In any regard, the Administration could help cauterize the damage by being honest, transparent and assisting those looking into the matter.  Sadly, the President has done the opposite, ensuring a Russian win no matter what.  In any event, I would suspect the Russians will look to muddy the waters and spread false and misleading information to confuse investigators and public officials.

As things stand, both investigators and voters will have to examine the information in their possession and make sense of it as best they can. Professional investigators can marry the report with human and signals intelligence, they can look at call records, travel records, interview people mentioned in the report, solicit assistance from friendly foreign police and intelligence services, subpoena records and tie it to subsequent events that can shed light on the various details.  We, on the other hand, will have to do our best to validate the information at hand.  Looking at new information through the framework outlined in the Steele document is not a bad place to start.

ONGOING updates to the MADNESS of ‘King’ Donald

latest updates here: http://billmoyers.com/story/trump-russia-timeline/

A Timeline: Russia and President Trump

Investigative reporters have begun to flesh out the Trump/Russia timeline. To keep everything in one location, here’s an updated summary (so far).

This timeline has been updated.

    • 1979: Roger Stone is introduced to Donald Trump by notorious attorney Roy Cohn[Added March 27, 2017]
    • 1980: Roger Stone founds a lobbying practice with Paul Manafort; Trump becomes one of Stone’s first clients. In the 1980s, Trump hires Manafort as his lawyer on gambling and real estate issues. By 1988, Stone is one of Trump’s closest advisers. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • Trump’s efforts to develop business in Russia date to 1987. In 1996, he applies for his trademark in that country. Discussing ambitions for a Trump hotel in 2007, he declares, “We will be in Moscow at some point.”
    • August 1998: Russia defaults on its debt and its stock market collapses. As the value of the ruble plummets, Russian millionaires scramble to get money out of their country and into New York City, where real estate provides a safe haven for overseas investors. [Added March 20, 2017]
    • October 1998: Demolition of a vacant office building near the United Nations headquarters is making way for Trump World Tower. Donald Trump begins selling units in the skyscraper, which is scheduled to open in 2001 and becomes a prominent depository of Russian money. By 2004, one-third of the units sold on the 76th through 83rd floors of Trump World Tower involve people or limited liability companies connected to Russia or neighboring states. Assisting Trump’s sales effort is Ukrainian immigrant Semyon “Sam” Kislin, who issues mortgages to buyers of multimillion-dollar Trump World Tower apartments. In the late 1970s, Kislin had co-owned an appliance store with Georgian immigrant Tamir Sapir, and they had sold 200 television sets to Donald Trump on credit. By the early 1990s, Kislin had become a wealthy commodities trader and campaign fundraiser for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who in 1996 appoints him to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Meanwhile, Sapir makes a fortune as a New York City real estate developer. [Added March 20, 2017]
    • 2000: Roger Stone serves as chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential exploratory advisory committee. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • 2002: Russian-born Felix H. Sater and his company, Bayrock Group — a Trump Tower tenant — begin working with Trump on a series of real estate development deals, one of which becomes the Trump SoHo. Another development partner in Trump SoHo is the Sapir Organization, founded by Tamir Sapir[Revised March 20, 2017]
    • Also in 2002: Efforts to sell Russians apartments in Trump World Tower, Trump’s West Side condominiums, and Trump’s building on Columbus Circle expand with presentations in Moscow involving Sotheby’s International Realty and a Russian realty firm. In addition to buying units in Trump World Tower, Russians and Russian-Americans flood into another Trump-backed project in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. In South Florida alone, members of the Russian elite invest more than $98 million in seven Trump-branded luxury towers. [Added March 20, 2017]
    • 2005: In a sworn deposition in 2008, Sater testifies that Trump gave Bayrock Group an exclusive deal to develop a project in Russia. “I’d come back, pop my head into Mr. Trump’s office and tell him, you know, ‘Moving forward on the Moscow deal.’ And he would say ‘All right… I showed him photos, I showed him the site, showed him the view from the site. It’s pretty spectacular.” But that early effort to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow fails. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • June 2005: Paul Manafort proposes that he undertake a consulting assignment for one of President Vladimir Putin’s billionaire oligarchs. Manafort suggests a strategy for influencing politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit Putin’s government. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • February 2006: Two of Trump’s children, Don Jr. and Ivanka, travel to Moscow. According to Sater, Donald Trump Sr. asked him to show them around: “He asked if I wouldn’t mind joining them and looking after them while they were in Moscow.” He summarizes the attitude of Trump’s children as “nice, big city, great. Let’s do a deal here.” Ten years later — October 2016 — Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten tells Forbes that the presence of Sater and Trump’s adult children in Moscow at the same time had been a coincidence. [Added March 3, 2017.]
    • Sept. 19, 2007: As Trump speaks at the launch party for Trump SoHo, Sater and his Bayrock partner, Kazakhstan native Tevfik Arif, stand next to him. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Oct. 15, 2007: In an interview with Larry King, Trump says: “Look at Putin — what he’s doing with Russia — I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done — whether you like him or don’t like him — he’s doing a great job.”
    • November 2007: Paul Manafort’s firm receives a $455,000 wire transfer from Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Manafort had been hired to improve the image of Putin-backed Yanukovych, who was portraying himself falsely as an anti-corruption reformer seeking to move Ukraine closer to the West. “The West has not been willing to move beyond the Cold War mentality and to see this man and the outreach that he has extended,” Manafort says about Yanukovych at the time. Ukraine’s richest man — a billionaire industrialist — had introduced Manafort to Yanukovych. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • July 2008: As the Florida real estate market began to crash, Trump sells a Florida residence to a Russian oligarch for $95 million, believed to be the biggest single-family home sale in US history. The Russian oligarch never lived in the house and, since then, it has been demolished. Three years earlier, Trump had bought the home at auction for $41 million. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • September 2008: Donald Trump Jr. says: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
    • Oct. 14, 2009: Paul Manafort’s firm receives a $750,000 wire transfer from Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. The Russian-leaning Yanukovych was running for president and, in February 2010, he won[Added April 17, 2017]
    • January 2010—January 2011: After leaving Bayrock, Sater becomes “senior adviser to Donald Trump,” according to his Trump Organization business card. He also has a Trump Organization email address and office. The phone number listed on the card had belonged previously to a lawyer in Trump’s general counsel’s office. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • April 8, 2013: Three Russians whom the FBI later accused of spying on the United States discuss efforts to recruit American businessman Carter Page. According to The Washington Post, “[T]he government’s application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said.” [Added April 17, 2017]
    • June 18, 2013: Trump announces that the 2013 Miss Universe beauty pageant, which he owns, will take place in Moscow. The next day, he tweets: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?” While preparing for the pageant, Trump says, “I have plans for the establishment of business in Russia. Now, I am in talks with several Russian companies to establish this skyscraper.”
    • July 8, 2013: After a BBC reporter questions Trump about Felix Sater’s alleged prior connections to organized crime, Trump ends the interview[Added March 3, 2017]
    • Oct. 17, 2013: On The Late Show, David Letterman asks Trump, “Have you had any dealings with the Russians?” Trump answers, “Well I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians…” Letterman continues, “Vladmir Putin, have you ever met the guy?” Trump says, “He’s a tough guy. I met him once.”
    • Nov. 5, 2013: In a deposition, an attorney asks Trump about Felix Sater. “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump answers. When asked how many times he had ever spoken with Sater, Trump says, “Not many.” When asked about his July 2013 BBC interview during which he was questioned about Sater’s alleged connections to organized crime, Trump says he didn’t remember it. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Nov. 11, 2013: Trump tweets, “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”
    • November 2013: At the Miss Universe pageant, Trump says: “I do have a relationship [with Putin] and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today… I do have a relationship with him… He’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s represented.” While Trump is in Moscow for the pageant, he and Alex Sapir (whose family’s company was one of the co-developers of Trump SoHo with Trump and Felix Sater) meet with the Russian real estate developer who had facilitated Trump’s $20 million deal to host the Miss Universe contest in Moscow. They discuss plans for a new Trump project in Russia. “The Russian market is attracted to me,” Trump tells Real Estate Weekly upon his return. “I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.” [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Feb. 22, 2014: Popular uprisings lead the Ukraine Parliament to oust President Viktor Yanukovych from office for gross human rights violations and dereliction of duty. With the help of Putin’s security forces, Yanukovych flees the country. But he leaves behind a handwritten ledger — the “Black Ledger” — with 22 entries for 2007 to 2012 purporting to show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Paul Manafort or his firm from Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • March 6, 2014: At the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump says: “You know, I was in Moscow a couple of months ago. I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present.” On the same day, President Obama signs an executive order imposing sanctions on Russia for its unlawful annexation of Crimea.
    • Sometime in 2014: Golf writer and co-author of Arnold Palmer’s memoir James Dodson plays golf with Donald and Eric Trump at Trump National Charlotte in North Carolina. In an interview airing May 5, 2017 on Boston’s public radio station, Dodson describes the episode, beginning with a question he asks Donald Trump before the round: “‘What are you using to pay for these courses?’ And he just sort of tossed off that he had access to $100 million. So when I got in the cart with Eric, as we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, the Great Recession — have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time. Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting.’” On May 7, 2017, Eric Trump calls Dodson’s claim “categorically untrue” and “complete garbage.” [Added May 8, 2017]
    • June 16, 2015: Trump announces he is running for president.
    • Aug. 6, 2015: The Trump campaign says it has fired Roger Stone; Stone claims he’d quit. Either way, Stone remains a prominent Trump surrogate for the rest of the campaign. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • Aug. 21, 2015: Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions makes a surprise appearance at a Donald Trump rally and dons a “Make America Great Cap.”
    • Late summer 2015: A member of Trump’s campaign staff calls Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to ask if he’s willing to meet with Trump. Flynn agrees. Later, Flynn says four other Republican presidential candidates also reached out to him: Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • September 2015: An FBI special agent contacts the Democratic National Committee to report that at least one DNC computer system had been hacked by an espionage team linked to the Russian government. The agent is transferred to a tech-support contractor at the help desk, who did a cursory check of DNC server logs and didn’t reply to follow-up calls from the FBI agent. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Sept. 21, 2015: On Hugh Hewitt’s radio program, Trump says, “The oligarchs are under [Putin’s] control, to a large extent. I mean, he can destroy them, and he has destroyed some of them… Two years ago, I was in Moscow… I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.” [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Sept. 29, 2015Trump tells Bill O’Reilly: “I will tell you in terms of leadership he [Putin] is getting an ‘A,’ and our president is not doing so well.”
    • Nov. 10, 2015: At a Republican primary debate, Trump says: “I got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”
    • Nov. 30, 2015: When an Associated Press reporter asks Trump about Felix Sater, he answers, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I’m not that familiar with him.” Trump refers questions about Sater to his staff. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Dec. 10, 2015: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who would become Trump’s national security adviser, sits at Putin’s table for the 10th anniversary gala of Russia’s state-owned television propaganda network, RT. Flynn had made a paid appearance on the network. For his December speech, he nets $33,500 of the $45,000 paid to his speakers’ bureau. For all of 2015, Flynn receives more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia. [Revised March 20, 2017]
    • Late 2015: The British spy agency GCHQ alerts its American counterparts in Washington to suspicious interactions between members of the Trump campaign and known or suspected Russian agents. The GCHQ provides the information as part of a routine exchange of intelligence information. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Feb. 17, 2016: As questions about Russia swirls around Trump, he changes his story: “I have no relationship with [Putin], other than he called me a genius.”
    • Feb. 28, 2016: Jeff Sessions formally endorses Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. Three days later, Trump names Sessions chairman of his campaign’s national security advisory committee. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Feb. 29, 2016: Paul Manafort submits a five-page, single-spaced, proposal to Trump. In it, he outlines his qualifications for helping Trump secure enough convention delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination. Manafort describes how he had assisted rich and powerful business and political leaders, including oligarchs and dictators in Russia and Ukraine: “I have managed presidential campaigns around the world.” [Added April 10, 2017]
    • March 17, 2016: Jeff Sessions discusses Trump’s foreign policy positions, saying, “I think an argument can be made there is no reason for the US and Russia to be at this loggerheads. Somehow, someway we ought to be able to break that logjam. Strategically it’s not justified for either country.” [Added March 3, 2017]
    • March 21, 2016: In a Washington Post interview, Trump identifies Carter Page as one of his foreign policy advisers. Page had helped open the Moscow office of investment banking firm Merrill Lynch and had advised Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom, in which Page is an investor. He blames 2014 US sanctions relating to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine for driving down Gazprom’s stock price. Earlier in March 2016, Iowa tea party activist Sam Clovis had recommended Page to the Trump campaign. [Supplemented April 24, 2017]
    • March 29, 2016On Roger Stone’s recommendation, Paul Manafort joins the Trump campaignas convention manager, tasked with lining up delegates. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • April 20, 2016: Paul Manafort becomes Trump’s campaign manager. Reports surface about his 2007 to 2012 ties to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president, whom Manafort had helped to elect.
    • Late April 2016: The Democratic National Committee’s IT department notices suspicious computer activity, contacts the FBI, and hires a private security firm, CrowdStrike, to investigate. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • May 2016: CrowdStrike determines that highly sophisticated Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries — denominated Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear — had been responsible for the DNC hack. Fancy Bear, in particular, had indicators of affiliation with Russia’s Main Intelligence Department (also know as the GRU). [Added March 13, 2017]
    • May 19, 2016: Paul Manafort becomes Trump’s campaign chairman and chief strategist[Added March 27, 2017]
    • Early June 2016: At a closed-door gathering of high-powered foreign policy experts visiting with the prime minister of India, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page hails Vladimir Putin as stronger and more reliable than President Obama and touts the positive effect that a Trump presidency would have on US-Russia relations. [Added March 6, 2017]
    • June 15, 2016: A hacker with the online persona “Guccifer 2.0” claims credit for the DNC hack and begins posting internal DNC documents on the Guccifer 2.0 website. CrowdStrike reiterates its conclusion that the hack had been a Russian intelligence operation. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on June 15, 2016: After the Ukrainian prime minister visits Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other Republican leaders meet privately. During the session, McCarthy says, “I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is… The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research they had on Trump.” Moments later he says, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” referring to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who is known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia. Some of the lawmakers laugh, but McCarthy continues, “Swear to God.” According to a transcript prepared from a tape of the discussion, Ryan immediately interrupts the conversation, saying, “This is an off the record… [laughter] …NO LEAKS… [laughter] …alright? This is how we know we are a real family here… What’s said in the family, stays in the family.” When The Washington Post obtains the transcript in May 2017, it seeks comment from Ryan and McCarthy. Ryan’s spokesperson says, “That never happened. The idea that McCarthy would assert this is false and absurd.” As detailed in the Post video accompanying its eventual story, the Post reporter then says that he has a transcript of the discussion. Ryan and McCarthy respond that the transcript is false, maybe even made up, and certainly inaccurate. When the reporter says he has listened to an audio recording of the conversation, Ryan’s spokesperson says it was a failed attempt at humor.  [Added May 18, 2017]
    • July 5, 2016: FBI Director James Comey holds a press conference announcing that the bureau has closed its yearlong investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Comey says Clinton had been “extremely careless” in handling “very sensitive, highly classified information,” but does not recommend prosecution. Typically, when the FBI recommends closing a case, the Justice Department agrees and no public statement follows. One possible reason for Comey’s unusual announcement in the Clinton case could be the contents of a document that the FBI knew Russians had stolen when they hacked the DNC. In it, a Democratic operative suggested that Attorney General Lynch would not let the Clinton email investigation go too far. Comey may have worried that if Lynch announced an end of the investigation, and Russia later leaked the document, voters would doubt the investigation’s independence. [Added April 24, 2017]
    • July 6, 2016: Another batch of hacked DNC documents appears on the Guccifer 2.0 website[Added March 13, 2017]
    • July 7, 2016: In a lecture at the New Economic School in Moscow, Carter Page criticizes American foreign policy. He says that many of the mistakes spoiling relations between the US and Russia “originated in my own country.” Page says he had sought and received permissionfrom the Trump campaign to make the trip. [Revised March 20, 2017]
    • July 14, 2016: Another batch of hacked DNC documents appear on the Guccifer 2.0 website[Added March 13, 2017]
    • July 18, 2016: The Washington Post reports that the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes ahead of the Republican Convention on a plank of the 2016 Party Platform that gutted the GOP’s longstanding support for Ukrainians’ popular resistance to Russia’s 2014 intervention.
    • Also on July 18, 2016: At a Heritage Foundation event during the Republican Convention, Jeff Sessions speaks individually with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • July 19, 2016: Bloomberg reports that over the past year, Trump’s debt load has almost doubled from $350 million to $630 million. [Added May 8, 2017]
    • Also during the July 2016 Republican Convention: Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, national security advisers to the Trump Campaign, meet with ambassador Kislyak. They stress that Trump would like to improve relations with Russia. [Revised March 6, 2017]
    • July 22, 2016: On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks releases its first trove of emails stolen from the DNC.
    • July 24, 2016: When ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asks whether there were any connections between the Trump campaign and Putin’s regime, Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort answers, “No, there are not. And you know, there’s no basis to it.” [Added March 6, 2017]
    • July 25, 2016: Trump tweets, “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.” [Added March 3, 2017]
    • July 27, 2016At a press conference, Trump says: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” At the same press conference, he insists: “I never met Putin. I’ve never spoken to him.” In an interview with CBS News, he reiterates: “But I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do, I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”
    • By the end of July 2016: The FBI has opened an investigation into possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. [Added April 24, 2017]
    • July 31, 2016: Manafort denies knowing anything about the change in the Republican platform. That afternoon, Boris Epshteyn, Trump’s Russian-born adviser, spouts the Kremlin’s party line telling CNN: “Russia did not seize Crimea. We can talk about the conflict that happened between Ukraine and the Crimea… But there was no seizure by Russia. That’s an incorrect statement, characterization, of what happened.”
    • Also on July 31, 2016: On CNN, Jeff Sessions defends Trump’s approach to Russia: “This whole problem with Russia is really disastrous for America, for Russia and for the world,” he says. “Donald Trump is right. We need to figure out a way to end this cycle of hostility that’s putting this country at risk, costing us billions of dollars in defense, and creating hostilities.” [Added March 3, 2017]
    • And also on July 31, 2016: Trump tells ABC News he was not involved in the Republican Party platform change that softened America’s position on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine. [Added March 6, 2017]
    • Aug. 5, 2016: Trump surrogate Roger Stone writes an article for Breitbart News. Stone argues that Guccifer 2.0 had nothing to do with Russia. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 5, 2016: Carter Page’s ongoing public criticism of US sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine and his praise for Putin generate increasing attention and concern. In response, Trump campaign spokesman Hope Hicks describes Page as an “informal policy adviser” who “does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign.” Later that month, after the FBI believes Page was no longer part of the Trump campaign, it obtains a Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) warrant to monitor his communications. The initial 90-day warrant is renewed more than once. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Aug. 6, 2016: NPR confirms the Trump campaign’s involvement in the Republican platform change on Ukraine.
    • Aug. 8, 2016: Roger Stone addresses a Broward County, Florida Republican Party group. An audience member asks (near the 46-minute mark of the video) about his predictions for an “October surprise” based on materials in the possession of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange. In response, Stone says, “I actually have communicated with Assange.” [Updated May 8, 2017]
    • Aug. 12, 2016: On a #MAGA podcast (around the 7-minute mark), Stone says, “I believe Julian Assange — who I think is a hero fighting the police state — has all of the emails that Huma [Abedin] and Cheryl Mills, the two Clinton aides, thought they had erased…. I think Assange has them. I know he has them. And I believe he will expose the American people to this information, you know, in the next 90 days.” [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Aug. 12, 2016: A batch of hacked Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) documents appear on the Guccifer 2.0 website[Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 12, 2016: Stone tells Alex Jones that he was “in communication with Julian Assange.” Later, Stone continues, “I am not at liberty to discuss what I have.” [Added on April 24, 2017]
    • Aug. 13, 2016: After receiving complaints about the publication of private information, Twitter and wordpress.com (host for the Guccifer 2.0 website) suspends the Guccifer 2.0 accounts[Added March 13, 2017]
    • Aug. 14, 2016: Roger Stone tweets, “[N]ow Guccifer 2.0 — why are those exposing the truth banned?” Without explanation, Twitter reinstates the Guccifer 2.0 account. In a private message to Guccifer 2.0, Roger Stone writes, “Delighted you are reinstated. Fuck the State and their MSM lackeys.” [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 14, 2016: The New York Times reports that Ukraine anti-corruption investigators were seeking to identify and recover assets that it claims former President Viktor Yanukovych had stolen from the Ukrainian people. Investigators had discovered the Black Ledger from Yanukovych’s pro-Russia Party of Regions. Later, Manafort questions the authenticity of the Black Ledger, claims it had been falsified and asserts that no public evidence exists that he or others received the payments listed on the ledger. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Aug. 15, 2016: Continuing their private exchange, Guccifer 2.0 responds to Stone: “wow thank u for writing back and thank you for an article about me!!! do u find anything interesting in the docs I posted?” [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 15, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 releases hacked DCCC documents on primaries in Florida. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Aug. 16, 2016: Stone publishes an article in The Hill and asks Guccifer 2.0 to retweet it, “PLZ RT: How the election can be rigged against Donald Trump — thehill.com/blogs/pundits-…” Guccifer 2.0 responds: “done” and “I read u’d been hacked” [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 16, 2016: With “TRUMP 2000” posters in the background from what appears to be Stone’s home office, he again tells radio host Alex Jones (around the 6 1/2-minute mark of the interview) that he has had “back-channel communications” with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange who have “political dynamite” on the Clintons. [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 16, 2016: In an interview on The Blaze, Stone says he has “communicated” with Julian Assange through a “mutual acquaintance.” He continues, “I think that Assange is going to be very influential in this election….” [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Aug. 17, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 sends another private message to Stone: “I’m pleased to say that u r great man and I think I gonna read ur books” “please tell me if I can help u anyhow it would be a great pleasure to me.” [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 17, 2016: The Associated Press reports that in 2012 Paul Manafort had secretly routed more than $2 million from Ukraine President Yanukovych’s governing pro-Russia governing party to two US lobbying firms working to influence American policy toward Ukraine. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Aug. 18, 2016: In a C-SPAN interview, Stone says (around the 48-minute mark of the broadcast) that he’s never met Julian Assange, but he has been in touch with him “through an intermediary — somebody who is a mutual friend.” He continues, “I expect you’re going to see more from Mr. Assange.” [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Aug. 19, 2016: As reports of Manafort’s financial connections to Ukraine intensified, he resigns from the Trump campaign.
    • Also Aug. 19, 2016: On the day he resigns from the Trump campaign, Manafort records documents creating Summerbreeze LLC, a shell company that he controls. Shortly thereafter, Summerbreeze receives a $3.5 million loan from Spruce Capital, a small New York investment firm. Spruce’s co-founder is a developer of Trump hotel projects, including Trump International Hotel and Tower in Waikiki. One of Spruce’s financial backers, Alexander Rovt, is a billionaire who made his fortune in the privatization of the fertilizer industry in post-Soviet Ukraine. On Feb. 1, 2016, Rovt had shared a Manor College stage forum about Ukraine with Andrii Artemenko, a pro-Putin member of the Ukraine Parliament. In January 2017, Artemenko would resurface at the Manhattan Loews Regency hotel on Park Avenue with long-time Trump business associate Felix Sater and Trump’s personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen. During their meeting, Sater gives Cohen a sealed envelope containing Artemenko’s Ukranian-Russian peace plan and asks him to deliver it to Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. The plan would have leased Crimea to Russia for 50 or 100 years, essentially ceding to Putin the territory he had annexed illegally. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Aug. 21, 2016: Trump surrogate Roger Stone tweets, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary” [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 21, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posts hacked DCCC documents on Pennsylvania’s congressional primaries. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Aug. 21, 2016: On a local Maryland radio program, Stone denies (around the 6-minute mark of the broadcast) that Guccifer 2.0 is connected to the Russians: “The DNC leaks that nailed Deborah Wasserman Schultz in the heist against Bernie Sanders was not leaked by the Russians, it was leaked by Cruccifer [sic] 2, I should say hacked and leaked first by Cruccifer 2, well known hacker who is not in the employment of the Russians, and then WikiLeaks. So that whole claim is a canard.” [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Aug. 26, 2016: In an interview with Breitbart Radio, Stone says (near the 10-minute mark of the interview), “I’m almost confident Mr. Assange has virtually every one of the emails that the Clinton henchwomen, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, thought that they had deleted, and I suspect that he’s going to drop them at strategic times in the run up to the rest of this race.” [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Aug. 29, 2016: Stone tells a local Florida radio interviewer (around the 7-minute mark of the interview), “We’re going to, I think, see from WikiLeaks and other leakers see the nexus between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department.” About Assange, he says, “Perhaps he has the smoking gun that makes this handcuff time.” [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Aug. 31, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posts documents hacked from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s personal computer. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Sept. 8, 2016: Jeff Sessions meets Russian ambassador Kislyak in his Senate office. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Sept. 9, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 sends Roger Stone a link to a blog post about voter turnout, along with this message: “hi what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign? Basically how it works is there are people who will vote party line no matter what and there are folks who will actually make a decision. The basic premise of winning an election is turnout your base (marked turnout) and target the marginal folks with persuadable advertising (marked persuadable). They spend millions calculating who is persuadable or what we call a ‘soft democrat’ and who is a ‘hard democrat.’” [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Sept. 15, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posts hacked DCCC documents on New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Sept. 16, 2016: Stone says on Boston Herald Radio (around the 12-minute mark), “I expect Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks people to drop a payload of new documents on Hillary on a weekly basis fairly soon. And that of course will answer the question of exactly what was erased on that email server.” He says he’s in touch with Assange “through an intermediary.” He also says that Hillary Clinton’s association with Putin and Russia’s oligarchs was “far more troubling to me than Donald Trump’s.” [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Sept. 23, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posts hacked DCCC documents on chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on Sept. 23, 2016: Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News reports US intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page had opened up private communications with senior Russian officials, including talks about the possibility of lifting economic sanctions if Trump became president. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Sept. 25, 2016: Carter Page writes to FBI Director James Comey that in 2016 he “had not met with any sanctioned official in Russia….” [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Sept. 26, 2016: Amid accusations that he has ties to Russia, Carter Page takes a leave of absence from the Trump campaign. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Sept. 28, 2016: FBI Director Comey appears before the House Judiciary Committee and refuses to answer questions about whether the bureau is investigating connections between members of the Trump campaign and Russia. “We do not confirm or deny investigations,” Comey says. [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Oct. 1, 2016: Six days before WikiLeaks releases emails that Russian hackers had acquired from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s email account, Trump’s informal adviser and surrogate Roger Stone tweets, “Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.”
    • Oct. 4, 2016: Trump tweets: “CLINTON’S CLOSE TIES TO PUTIN DESERVE SCRUTINY.”
    • Also on Oct. 4, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posts documents hacked from the Clinton Foundation. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Oct. 7, 2016: In a joint statement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence says, “The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations… We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” But two other stories dominate the news cycle: WikiLeaks begins publishing stolen emails from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tapes become public.
    • Oct. 12, 2016: Roger Stone tells NBC News, “I have back-channel communications with WikiLeaks.”
    • Oct. 19, 2016: During the third presidential debate, Trump dismisses the Oct. 7 US intelligence findings: “[Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else… Our country has no idea.” And he says this: “I don’t know Putin. I have no idea… I never met Putin. This is not my best friend.”
    • Oct. 28, 2016: In a letter to key leaders in the House and Senate, FBI Director Comey says that in connection with the bureau’s closed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, it was reviewing emails on a computer belonging to Clinton adviser Huma Abedin. Comey says nothing about the ongoing FBI investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Oct. 30, 2016: According to reporting by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the $100 million plane belonging to the Russian oligarch who had bought a Florida residence from Trump for $95 million in 2008 was in Las Vegas on the same day Trump was holding a rally there. [Added March 6, 2017]
    • Oct. 31, 2016: Asked about news reports that the FBI was investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, former campaign manager Manafort says, “None of it is true… There’s no investigation going on by the FBI that I’m aware of.” [Added March 6, 2017]
    • Nov. 3, 2016: According to reporting by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the plane belonging to the Russian oligarch who had bought a Florida residence from Trump for $95 million in 2008 was at the single-runaway airport near Concord, North Carolina, where Trump was holding a rally. [Added March 6, 2017]
    • Nov. 5, 2016: In a letter to key leaders in Congress, Comey confirms that the FBI has completed its review of the additional Abedin emails and, as a result, has not changed its earlier recommendation not to recommend prosecuting Clinton for her use of a private email server. [Added April 24, 2017]
    • Nov. 8, 2016: Election Day.
    • Nov. 9, 2016: After Putin announced Trump’s election victory, Russia’s Parliament erupts in applause.
    • Nov. 10, 2016: Russia’s deputy foreign minister admits that during the campaign, the Kremlin had continuing communications with Trump’s “immediate entourage.”
    • Nov. 10, 2016: During their first meeting after the election, President Obama warns Trumpabout appointing Mike Flynn to a top national security post. In 2014, Obama had removed Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Nov. 18, 2016: Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sends Trump transition team chair (and Vice President-elect) Mike Pence a letter expressing concerns about NSA-designate Mike Flynn’s conflicts of interest. Specifically, Cummings worries about Flynn’s work for an entity affiliated with the government of Turkey, as well as a paid trip to Moscow in December 2015 during which Flynn was “highly critical of the United States.” [Added May 8, 2017]
    • Late November 2016: In a meeting that includes senior Trump transition national security team members, national security adviser-designate Mike Flynn reveals he has scheduled a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. In attendance is Marshall Billingslea, a member of the team who had been a senior Pentagon official for President George W. Bush. He warns Flynn that any such communications carry risks because US intelligence agencies are almost certainly monitoring Kislyak’s conversations. After the meeting, Billingsea asks national security officials in the Obama White House for a copy of the classified CIA profile of Kislyak. [Added May 8, 2017]
    • Early December 2016: In Moscow, Russians arrest a Russian computer security expert and two high-level intelligence officers who worked on cyber operations. They are charged with treason for providing information to the United States. The arrests amount to a purge of the cyber wing of the FSB, successor to the KGB and the main Russian intelligence agency. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Also in December 2016: Officials in the Obama administration become concerned that the incoming administration would cover up or destroy previously gathered intelligence relating Russia’s interference with the election. To preserve that intelligence for future investigations, they spread it across the government. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Also in December 2016: Russian ambassador Kislyak meet at Trump Tower with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump’s NSA-designate Michael Flynn. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Dec. 8, 2016: Carter Page is in Moscow for several days to meet with “business leaders and thought leaders.” [Added March 6, 2017]
    • Dec. 9, 2016: In response to a Washington Post report that the CIA had concluded Russia had intervened in the election to help Trump win, he says, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”
    • Also on Dec. 9, 2016: Paul Manafort tells CBS News he is not active in the Trump transition. Asked if he is talking to President-elect Trump, Manafort says, “I don’t really want to talk about who I’m speaking to, but I’m aware of what’s going on.” Interviewers also question him about the appearance of his name among the handwritten entries in the Ukraine Party of Regions’ Black Ledger from 2007 to 2012 (purporting to show more than $12 million in payments to him). Manafort responds that the ledger was fabricated. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • Dec. 11, 2016: Trump praises Rex Tillerson, chairman of ExxonMobil and recipient of Russia’s “Order of Friendship” Medal from Vladimir Putin in 2013, as “much more than a business executive” and a “world-class player.” Trump says Tillerson “knows many of the players” and did “massive deals in Russia” for Exxon. Two days later, Trump nominates him to be secretary of state.
    • Also on Dec. 11, 2016: Asked about the earlier US intelligence report on hacking, Trump says, “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.”
    • Dec. 12, 2016: While in Moscow, Trump’s former campaign surrogate Jack Kingston meets with Russian businessmen to discuss what they might expect from a Trump administration. “Trump can look at sanctions,” Kingston says. “They’ve been in place long enough.” [Added March 3, 2017.]
    • Dec. 13, 2016: NBC News’ Richard Engel reports from Moscow on Trump’s secretary of state pick, Rex Tillerson. Former Russian Energy Minister Vladimir Milov tells Engel that Tillerson was a “gift for Putin.”
    • Dec. 29, 2016: On the same day President Obama announces sanctions against Russian in retaliation for its interference in the 2016 election, national security adviser-designate Lt. Gen. Flynn places five phone calls to the Russian ambassador.
    • Dec. 30, 2016: After Putin makes a surprise announcement that Russia would not retaliate for the new sanctions, Trump tweets, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart.”
    • Jan. 3Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, 2017: Trump tweets a series of attacks on the integrity of the US intelligence community’s findings that Russia had hacked the election.
    • Also on Jan. 4, 2017: NSA-designate Mike Flynn tells the transition team’s chief counsel Donald F. McGahn II that he is under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey. Flynn’s lawyer followed up, but did not get a call back until Jan. 6. [Added May 18, 2017]
    • Jan. 6, 2017: The CIA, FBI and NSA release their unclassified report, concluding unanimously, “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The three intelligence agencies agree that “the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible.” The report also states that WikiLeaks had been Russia’s conduit for the effort, writing “We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.” [Updated March 13, 2017]
    • Jan. 10, 2017: At Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asks him, “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?” Sessions answers: “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.” [Updated March 4, 2017]
    • Jan. 11, 2017: At his first news conference, Trump says, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” The final question of Trump’s first news conference comes from Ann Compton of ABC News: “Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?” Trump never answered her. Away from cameras and heading toward the elevators, he reportedly says, “No,” his team didn’t have contact with Russia.
    • Jan. 11, 2017: Sheri Dillon, Trump’s outside lawyer and a partner in the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm, presents the plan to deal with Trump’s business conflicts of interest during his presidency. The plan allows Trump to retain beneficial ownership in all of his businesses. Across the political spectrumlegal experts agree the plan is a sham because, among other things, it does not require Trump to divest his holdings. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Jan. 13, 2017: In response to The Washington Post’s article about Flynn’s Dec. 29 conversations with the Russian ambassador, press secretary Sean Spicer says it was only one call. They “exchanged logistical information” for an upcoming call between Trump and Vladimir Putin after the inauguration.
    • Jan. 15, 2017: “We should trust Putin,” Trump tells The Times of London. Expressing once again his skepticism about NATO, Trump lambastes German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
    • Also on Jan. 15, 2017: Appearing on CBS’ Face the NationVice President Pence says Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions was “strictly coincidental,” explaining: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.”
    • Jan. 19, 2017: The New York Times reports that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, along with advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page, are under investigation in connection with possible links to Russia. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Jan. 20, 2017: Trump is inaugurated.
    • Jan. 22, 2017: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was sworn in as national security adviser, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.
    • Jan. 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, Spicer says that none of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador touched on the Dec. 29 sanctions. That got the attention of FBI Director James Comey. According to The Wall Street Journal, Comey convinced acting Attorney General Sally Yates to delay informing the White House immediately about the discrepancy between Spicer’s characterization of Flynn’s calls and US intelligence intercepts showing that the two had, in fact, discussed sanctions. Comey reportedly asked Yates to wait a bit longer so that the FBI could develop more information and speak with Flynn himself. The FBI interviews Flynn shortly thereafter.
    • Jan. 24, 2017: According to a subsequent article in The Washington Post, Flynn reportedly denied to FBI agents that he had discussed US sanctions against Russia in his December 2016 calls with the Russian ambassador.
    • Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs White House counsel Don McGahnthat Flynn had made misleading statements about his late December conversations with the Russian ambassador. Sean Spicer later says Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.”
    • Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs White House Counsel Don McGahnthat, based on recent public statements of White House officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Flynn had lied to Pence and others about his late-December conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. According to Sean Spicer, Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.” [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Jan. 27, 2017: McGahn asks Yates to return to the White House for another discussion about Flynn. He asks Yates, “Why does it matter to the Department of Justice if one White House official lies to another?” Yates explains that Flynn’s lies make him vulnerable to Russian blackmail because the Russians know that Flynn lied and could probably prove it. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on Jan. 27, 2017: In a one-on-one White House dinner that Trump had requested, he asks FBI Director Comey for a pledge of personal loyalty. Comey, who was uneasy about even accepting the dinner invitation, responds that he can’t do that, but he can pledge honesty. Afterward, Comey describes the dinner to several people on the condition that they not disclose it while he remains director of the FBI. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Late January 2017: At the Manhattan Loews Regency hotel on Park Avenue, Trump’s personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, meets with Felix Sater and Andrii Artemenko, a pro-Putin lawmaker from Ukraine. Artemenko and Sater gave Cohen a peace plan whereby Russia would lease Ukraine for 50 or 100 years and, eventually, get relief from US sanctions. According to The New York Times, Cohen says he would give the plan to national security adviser Michael Flynn. Responding to questions from The Washington Post, Cohen denies that statement, calling it “fake news.” [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Jan. 30, 2017: Trump fires Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. According to his statement, the reason was that she had “betrayed the Department of Justice” by refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban in court.
    • Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn tells reporters at The Washington Post he did not discuss US sanctions in his December conversation with the Russian ambassador.
    • Also on Feb. 8, 2017: Jeff Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy and the former chair of the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee, becomes attorney general. Every Republican senator and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia votes to confirm him. During the confirmation process, Sessions had said he was “not aware of a basis to recuse myself” from the Justice Department’s Russia-related investigations of Trump.
    • Feb. 9, 2017: Through a spokesman, Flynn changes his position: “While [Flynn] had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
    • Feb. 10, 2017: Trump tells reporters he was unaware of reports surrounding Flynn’s December conversations with the Russian ambassador.
    • Also on Feb. 10, 2017: On the Friday preceding Trump’s weekend at Mar-A-Lago, the plane belonging to the Russian oligarch who had bought a Florida residence from Trump for $95 million in 2008 flies from the south of France to Miami International Airport. [Added March 6, 2017]
    • Feb. 13, 2017: The Washington Post breaks another story: Then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House in late January that Flynn had mischaracterized his December conversation with the Russian ambassador, and that it made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Later that evening, Flynn resigns.
    • Feb. 14, 2017: The New York Times corroborates the Russian deputy foreign minister’s admission on Nov. 10. Based on information from four current and former American officials, The Times reports, “Members of the Trump campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior intelligence officials in the year before the election.” Meanwhile, advisers to Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterates his earlier position: Sessions sees no need to recuse himself from the ongoing Justice Department investigations into the Trump/Russia connections.
    • Also on Feb. 14, 2017: Press secretary Sean Spicer denies that anyone in the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russia during the campaign. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Also on Feb. 14, 2017: In a private Oval Office meeting, Trump asks FBI Director Comey to halt the investigation of former NSA Mike Flynn. According to Comey’s contemporaneous memorandum, Trump says, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” According to the memo, Trump tells Comey that Flynn had done nothing wrong. Comey does not say anything to Trump about halting the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.” [Added May 17, 2017]
    • Feb. 15, 2017: Trump tweets a series of outbursts attacking the Trump/Russia connection as “nonsense,” diverting attention to “un-American” leaks in which “information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy.” Shortly thereafter, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and other congressional Republicans formally ask the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the leaks, but they and their GOP colleagues resist the creation of an independent bipartisan commission with the power to convene public hearings and discover the truth about the Trump/Russia connections.
    • Also on Feb. 15, 2017: During an afternoon appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump refuses to answer questions about connections between his presidential campaign and Russia. That evening, The New York Times reports that Trump is planning to appoint Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump ally, to lead “a broad review of American intelligence agencies.” Feinberg has no prior experience in intelligence or government, but he has close ties to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.
    • And also on Feb. 15, 2017: Chief of staff Reince Priebus asks FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to rebut publicly The New York Times’ story about Trump aides’ contacts with Russia during the campaign. McCabe and FBI Director Comey refuse. The White House then askssenior intelligence officials and key lawmakers — including the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees conducting the Trump/Russia investigation — to contact the media and counter the Times story themselves. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • And also on Feb. 15, 2017: Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page denyhaving any meetings in 2016 with Russian officials inside or outside Russia: “I had no meetings, no meetings.” [Added March 6, 2017]
    • Feb. 16, 2017: Trump continues his diversionary twitter assault on the intelligence leaks that were fueling intensified scrutiny of his Russia connections. At Trump’s afternoon press conference, he says: “I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia… Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.” Reporters ask repeatedly about anyone else involved with Trump or his campaign. “No,” Trump says. “Nobody that I know of.”
    • Feb. 17, 2017: FBI Director Comey meets privately with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the Russia investigation. Immediately thereafter, the Committee sends a letter asking more than a dozen agencies, organizations and individuals — including the White House — to preserve all communications related to the Senate panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Also on Feb. 17, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee sends Roger Stone a letter asking him to preserve any records he had in connection with the Committee’s inquiry into Russia’s interference in the US election. [Added March 20, 2017]
    • Feb. 20-26, 2017: Trump continues his attacks on the media and the FBI leaks that were generating the Trump/Russia stories. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Feb. 25, 2017: Nigel Farage, ex-leader of the UK Independence Party, key Brexit campaigner and one of Donald Trump’s most visible foreign supporters during and after the presidential campaign, dines with Trump, daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Florida Gov. Rick Scott at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Feb. 26, 2017: NBC’s Chuck Todd notes a pattern: Trump’s attacks on the press followed immediately after a new and unflattering Trump/Russia story breaks. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Feb. 28, 2017: On a party line vote, the House Judiciary Committee kills Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s Resolution of Inquiry calling for Trump to provide documents relating to Trump/Russia connections and his business conflicts of interest. [Added March 3, 2017]
    • Also on Feb. 28, 2017: More than 10 days after the Senate Intelligence Committee had requested that the White House and other agencies preserve Trump/Russia-related communications, the White House counsel’s office instructs Trump’s aides to preserve such materials, according to a March 1 report by the Associated Press[Added March 3, 2017]
    • March 1, 2017: In response to reports in The Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal and The New York Times about Jeff Sessions’ pre-election contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sessions issues a statement saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss any issues of the campaign.” [Added March 3, 2017]
    • March 2, 2017: Trump says he has “total confidence” in Jeff Sessions and he shouldn’t recuse himself from the Russia investigation. An hour later, Sessions recuses himself “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.” [Revised March 13, 2017]
    • Also March 2, 2017: Despite an earlier denial, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page admits to meeting with Russian ambassador Kislyak during the campaign. Another adviser, J.D. Gordon, admits that he’d met with Kislyak during the Republican Convention in July. Gordon says he had successfully urged changes in the party platform that Trump had sought to soften US policy regarding Ukraine. [Added March 6, 2017]
    • March 4, 2017: Trump is reportedly furious that Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Trump/Russia investigation. He unleashes a tweet-storm, claiming that President Obama had wiretapped his phones during the presidential campaign. Stunned by Trump’s outburst, White House staffers begin searching for evidence to support his false wiretap claimAmong those reportedly involved in the effort are White House Counsel Donald McGahn II and Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a 30-year-old Trump transition team member whom former national security adviser Mike Flynn had brought to the White House as senior director for intelligence programs. [Revised April 3, 2017]
    • Also on March 4, 2017: Stone tweets — then deletes — about his communications with Assange: “[N]ever denied perfectly legal back channel to Assange who indeed had the goods on #CrookedHillary.” Forty minutes later, the tweet was gone. [Added April 24, 2017]
    • March 5, 2017: FBI Director Comey asked the Justice Department to rebut publicly Trump’s assertion that President Obama had ordered the wiretapping of Trump’s phones. Meanwhile, Sean Spicer announces that neither Trump nor the White House would comment further on Trump/Russia matters until Congress completes an investigation into whether President Obama’s executive branch abused its powers during 2016 election. [Added March 6, 2017]
    • March 7, 2017: WikiLeaks releases a trove of alleged CIA documents relating to the agency’s hacking tools for smartphones, computers and internet-connected devices. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on March 7, 2017: Michael Ellis, 32-year-old general counsel to Nunes’ intelligence committee, joins White House Counsel McGahn’s office as “special assistant to the president, senior associate counsel to the president and deputy National Security Council legal adviser.” [Added April 3, 2017]
    • March 8, 2017: Nigel Farage meets with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, where Assange had found sanctuary since 2012. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • March 9, 2017: In an online press conference, Assange threatens to release more documents relating to CIA’s hacking capabilities and methods. [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on March 9, 2017: When reporters ask Sean Spicer about Nigel Farage’s meeting with Julian Assange and whether Farage was delivering a message from Trump, Sean Spicer says, “I have no idea.” [Added March 13, 2017]
    • March 10, 2017: Trump campaign surrogate Roger Stone admits that in August 2016 he had engaged in private direct messaging with Guccifer 2.0, whom US intelligence agencies later identified as the persona for the Russian hacking operation. Describing the messages as “completely innocuous,” Stone says, “It was so perfunctory, brief and banal I had forgotten it.” [Added March 13, 2017]
    • Also on March 10, 2017: Mike Flynn’s replacement as national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, tells Ezra Cohen-Watnick that he is reassigning him. Unhappy with the decision, Cohen-Watnick appeals to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. They intervene and take the issue to Trump, who orders that Cohen-Watnick should remain in his position. [Added April 3, 2017]
    • March 12, 2017: John McCain tells CNN’s Jake Tapper that former Trump adviser and surrogate Roger Stone “obviously” needs to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning his communications with Guccifer 2.0. McCain says that Stone should also explain fully his involvement matters relating to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president. [Added March 20, 2017]
    • March 13, 2017: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr says Roger Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0 are part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation and that Stone could be called to testify. [Added March 20, 2017]
    • March 14, 2017: House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes and ranking member Adam Schiff invite former acting Attorney General Sally Yates to testify before their committee at an open hearing on March 28, 2017. [Added April 3, 2017]
    • March 15, 2017: Roger Stone is riding in the front passenger seat of a car near Pompano Beach, Florida, when another car broadsides his, shifts gears, backs up and speeds away. In January, Stone had claimed that he was poisoned in late 2016 with polonium, a radioactive material manufactured in a nuclear reactor and used to kill former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Litvinenko had defected to Britain and become an outspoken critic of Putin. As he lay in a hospital bed, he said Putin had been responsible for his impending death. On Jan. 21, 2016, retired British High Court Judge Sir Robert Owen concluded a House of Commons inquiry and issued a 328-page report finding that Litvinenko’s accusation was probably correct. [Added March 20, 2017]
    • Also on March 15, 2017: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, says the committee has no evidence to support Trump’s March 4 wiretapping claim. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Nunes says. “Are you going to take the tweets literally? If you are, clearly the president is wrong.” [Added March 20, 2017]
    • Also on March 15, 2017: On the subject of his wiretapping claims, Trump tells Fox News, “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.” [Added April 3, 2017]
    • March 16, 2017: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders issue a joint statement rebutting Trump’s unfounded assertion that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.” [Added March 20, 2017]
    • March 17, 2017: Roger Stone says he had only just received the letter from the Senate Intelligence Committee, dated Feb. 17, asking him to preserve his records relating to Russian election interference. Quoted in The New York Times, Stone says, “I had never heard allegations that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian asset until now, and am not certain it’s correct.” He says that his 16 interactions with Guccifer 2.0, which included public Twitter posts and private messages, were all part of “exchanges,” not “separate contacts.” [Added March 20, 2017]
    • March 20, 2017: On the morning of FBI Director Comey’s testimony before Congress on his agency’s investigation into Russian election interference, Trump tweets: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!” Hours later, Comey testifies that the FBI was investigating Russian interference with election, including “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” With respect to Trump’s wiretapping claims, Comey says, “I have no information that supports those tweets.” [Added March 20, 2017]
    • March 20, 2017: In a House Intelligence Committee public hearing, Paul Manafort’s name comes up more than two dozen times. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • March 21, 2017: In his daily press briefing, Sean Spicer says that, with respect to the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort had “played a very limited role for a very limited period of time.” [Added March 27, 2017]
    • March 22, 2017: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, bypasses his fellow committee members and goes directly to the White House with alleged evidence that Trump associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies. Nunes refuses to release the information or name his sources, even to fellow committee members. And he confirms that he still had seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim that President Obama had ordered his wires tapped. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • Also on March 22, 2017: In a joint letter to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight Committee request information and documents relating to payments that former national security adviser Mike Flynn received from entities affiliated with foreign governments, including Russia and Turkey. [Added May 2, 2017]
    • March 23, 2017: In a letter to acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel R. Ramer, Sally Yates’ lawyer disagrees with the Justice Department’s objections to Yates’ anticipated congressional testimony. Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools responds that Yates’ testimony is “likely covered by the presidential communications privilege and possibly the deliberative process privilege.” But Schools adds that Yates needs only the consent of the White House, not the Justice Department, to testify. [Added April 3, 2017]
    • March 24, 2017: Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone volunteer to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • Also on March 24, 2017: Yates’ lawyer writes to White House Counsel McGahn about Yates’ upcoming testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He notes that unless McGahn objects before 10 a.m. on March 27, Yates will appear and answer the committee’s questions. [Added April 3, 2017]
    • Also on March 24, 2017: Rep. Nunes cancels public hearings scheduled for March 28. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates had been slated to testify before his committee. Nunes postpones their appearances indefinitely. [Added March 27, 2017]
    • March 26, 2017: In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Roger Stone says, “I reiterate again, I have had no contacts or collusions with the Russians. And my exchange with Guccifer 2.0, based on the content and the timing, most certainly does not constitute collusion.” [Added March 27, 2017]
    • March 27, 2017: Trump tweets that the House Intelligence Committee should be looking into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s ties to Russia: “Trump Russia story is a hoax.” [Added April 3, 2017]
    • March 30, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee opens its hearings into the Trump/Russia investigation. Clinton Watts, senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security and former FBI agent, testifies that the committee should follow the money funding misinformation websites. Watts then adds a more ominous suggestion: “Follow the trail of dead Russians,” he says. “There’s been more dead Russians in the past three months that are tied to this investigation who have assets in banks all over the world. They are dropping dead, even in Western countries.” Eight Russian politicians, activists, ambassadors and a former intelligence official have died since Trump’s election. Some were apparent assassinations. [Added April 3, 2017]
    • Also March 30, 2017: The New York Times reports that Nunes’ sources for the information that he’d reviewed nine days earlier on White House grounds — and then reported to Trump directly without informing anyone on his committee — are two members of the Trump administration: Ezra Cohen-Watnick (the NSC staffer whose job Trump had saved personally around March 13) and Michael Ellis (who had served as general counsel of Nunes’ committee before becoming Trump’s “special assistant, senior associate counsel and deputy National Security Council legal adviser” on March 7). [Added April 3, 2017]
    • Also on March 30, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that Mike Flynn is seeking immunity from prosecution in return for testifying before congressional intelligence committees. The next day, his lawyer confirms, “Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit.” [Added April 3, 2017]
    • March 31, 2017: Trump tweets, “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” [Added April 3, 2017]
    • Also on March 31, 2017: During an appearance with Bill Maher, Roger Stone denies that Guccifer 2.0 was an arm of Russia. “I’ve had no contacts with Russians,” he insists[Added April 3, 2017]
    • April 5, 2017: In an interview with The New York Times, Trump says, “The Russia story is a total hoax.” [Added April 10, 2017]
    • April 6, 2017: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) recuses himselffrom the Trump/Russia investigation. Texas Rep. Mike Conaway assumes control. [Added April 10, 2017]
    • April 12, 2017: The Associated Press confirms that newly obtained financial records show Paul Manafort’s firm had received two wire transfers — one in 2007 and another in 2009 — corresponding to two of the 22 entries next to Manafort’s name in Ukraine’s Party of Regions Black Ledger. Manafort’s spokesman says Manafort intended to register retroactively with the US Justice Department as a foreign agent for the work he had done on behalf of political interests in Ukraine through 2014. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • April 13, 2017: Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos he won’t reveal who brought him into the Trump campaign. Page also says he didn’t recall discussing the subject of easing Russian sanctions in conversations with Russian officials during his July 2016 trip to Moscow. “We’ll see what comes out in this FISA transcript,” Page says, referring to surveillance collected after the FBI obtained a secret court order to monitor him under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “Something may have come up in a conversation… I have no recollection.” Later he continues, “Someone may have brought it up. I have no recollection. And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for.” Page says that from the time of his departure as an adviser to the Trump campaign through Inauguration Day, he maintained “light contact” with some campaign members. [Added April 17, 2017]
    • April 19, 2017: The White House refuses the March 22 bipartisan request from the House Oversight Committee for more information and documents relating to payments that former national security adviser Mike Flynn received from entities affiliated with the Russian and Turkish governments. [Added May 2, 2017]
    • April 25, 2017: The Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism reveals that it has scheduled former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to testify on May 8, 2017. [Added May 2, 2017]
    • April 25, 2017: The Senate confirms Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from matters relating to the 2016 presidential election, including the Trump/Russia investigation, Rosenstein becomes the top Justice Department official supervising FBI Director Comey on that investigation. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • April 28, 2017: The chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee send letters to several former Trump campaign advisers, including Carter Page, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Among other requests, the letters ask for a “list of all meetings between you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests which took place between June 16, 2015 and Jan. 20, 2017.” The letters also request information about any such meetings of which they are aware, as well as all documents relating to Trump campaign communications with Russian officials or business representatives. The committee also seeks information about any financial and real estate transactions related to Russia from June 15, 2015 through Trump’s inauguration. [Added May 8, 2017]
    • April 29, 2017: In an interview airing on Trump’s 100th day in office, he tells CBS’ John Dickerson, “The concept of Russia with respect to us [the Trump campaign] is a total phony story.” Dickerson then asks, “You don’t think it’s phony that they, the Russians, tried to meddle in the election?” Trump answers, “That I don’t know.” Later, Trump says, “I’d love to find out what happened.” [Added May 2, 2017]
    • May 2, 2017: On the eve of FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump tweets: “FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony… Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?” [Added May 8, 2017]
    • May 3, 2017: In response to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who asks FBI Director Comey about Trump’s April 29, 2017 interview in which he said that the hacking of the DNC “could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups,” Comey answers, “The intelligence community with high confidence concluded it was Russia.” [Added May 8, 2017]
    • May 5, 2017: The chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee issue a joint statement, saying: “Three days ago, Carter Page told Fox News he was cooperating with the Committee’s investigation into Russian activities surrounding the 2016 Election. Today we have learned that may not be the case.” The statement expresses the hope that Page “will live up to his publicly-expressed cooperation with our effort.” [Added May 8, 2017]
    • May 6-7, 2017: Trump spends the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Since March, he’s been fuming over Comey’s congressional appearance, in which the FBI director had acknowledged the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia and had refuted Trump’s false claim that President Obama had wiretapped him. In the weeks that followed, Trump grew angrier and talked about firing Comey. At Bedminister, Trump grouses over Comey’s May 3 congressional testimony — especially his comment about being “mildly nauseous” at the thought that his actions relating to the Clinton investigation might have affected the outcome of the election. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • May 8, 2017: Upon returning to the White House on Monday, Trump tells a few close aides, including Vice President Pence and White House counsel Don McGahn, that Comey has to go. According to ABC News, Pence, McGahn, chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Jared Kushner are members of a small group that begins to prepare talking points about Comey’s firing. Trump summons Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to the White House, where he instructs them provide a written justification for removing Comey. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 8, 2017: With former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates scheduled to testify later in the day, Trump tweets:

      [Added May 15, 2017]

    • Days before May 9, 2017: According to The New York Times FBI Director Comey asks Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein for additional resources to expand the bureau’s Trump/Russia investigation. Department of Justice spokesperson Sarah Flores denies the story, calling it “100 percent false.” [Added May 15, 2017]
    • May 9, 2017: Citing the May 9 recommendations of Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, Trump fires FBI Director Comey, ostensibly because of his inappropriate statements about the Clinton email investigation prior to the 2016 election. Trump, Sessions and Rosenstein write that terminating Comey is necessary to restore trust, confidence and integrity in the FBI. In his termination letter to Comey, Trump also says he “greatly appreciates you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 9, 2017: CNN reports that a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia had recently issued subpoenas to associates of former national security adviser Mike Flynn. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 9, 2017: Late in the evening and amid bushes on the White House grounds, press secretary Sean Spicer tells reporters to “turn the lights off” before answering questions about Comey’s firing. He says that the impetus came from the deputy attorney general. “No one from the White House,” Spicer says. “That was a DOJ decision.” Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway echoes that position on CNN, reading excerpts from Rosenstein’s memo to Anderson Cooper. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • May 10, 2017: Vice President Mike Pence says repeatedly that Comey’s firing occurred because Sessions and Rosenstein recommended it: The deputy attorney general “came to work, sat down and made the recommendation for the FBI to be able to do its job that it would need new leadership. He brought that recommendation to the president. The attorney general concurred with that recommendation.” [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 10, 2017: Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Trump had been thinking about firing Comey “since the day he was elected,” but reiterates Pence’s positionthat Sessions and Rosenstein were “absolutely” the impetus for the firing. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 10, 2017: The Washington Post and The New York Times report that Trump had been the impetus for Comey’s firing, not Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 10, 2017: Rod Rosenstein speaks by phone with White House counsel Don McGahn. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rosenstein insists that the White House correct the misimpression that Rosenstein initiated the process leading to Comey’s firing. He suggests that he can’t work in an environment where facts aren’t reported accurately. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 10, 2017: The White House releases a new timeline of the events relating to Comey’s firing. It recites that the impetus for removing Comey had come from Trump, not the deputy attorney general. But the White House acknowledges that Trump met with Sessions and Rosenstein on May 8 to discuss “reasons for removing the director” and that the attorney general and his deputy sent their written recommendations to Trump on May 9. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 10, 2017: House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) asks the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Comey’s firing. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 10, 2017: At an Oval Office meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their aides, Trump reveals highly classified intelligenceabout the Islamic State and American counterterrorism plans. The meeting occurs because Putin had previously asked Trump to meet with Lavrov, and Trump didn’t feel he could say no. Kislyak’s attendance was unexpected. The intelligence that Trump reveals is so sensitive that it has not been shared with American allies and has been tightly restricted within the US government. Minutes after the meeting ends, Kislyak’s presence becomes known when the Russian news agency TASS publishes photographs that a Russian photographer had taken of the three men. The White House had not permitted any US news organization to attend any part of the meeting, even for photographs. [Added May 18, 2017]
    • May 11, 2017: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies that James Comey enjoyed “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day…. The majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.” [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 11, 2017: Trump tells NBC’s Lester Holt that he had already decided to fire Comey before his meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein: “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story….” Trump also says that on three different occasions — once in person and twice over the phone — he’d asked Comey if he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia, and Comey told him he wasn’t. And Trump tells Holt that he had sent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) a “certified letter” from “from one of the most prestigious law firms in the country” confirming that he has “nothing to do with Russia.” [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 11, 2017: The New York Times reports on Trump’s one-on-one dinner with Comey on Jan. 27, when Trump asked Comey for a personal loyalty pledge that Comey refused to provide. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • Also on May 11, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee sent Mike Flynn a subpoena for documents that he’d refused to produce voluntarily in response to the committee’s April 28 letter request. [Added May 15, 2017]
    • May 12, 2017: Trump tweets:

[Added May 15, 2017]

  • Also on May 12, 2017: In response to questions about Trump’s early morning tweet about Comey and “tapes,” press secretary Sean Spicer refuses to answer whether Trump was taping Oval Office conversations. “The president has nothing further to add on that,” Spicer says repeatedly. [Added May 15, 2017]
  • Also on May 12, 2017: The White House releases a one-page May 8, 2017 letter from Trump’s outside lawyers — Sheri Dillon and William Nelson at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The carefully worded letter states that “with a few exceptions” totaling about $100 million, Trump’s tax returns from 2005 “do not reflect” any “income from Russian sources,” “debt owed by you or [The Trump Organization] to Russian lenders,” “equity investments by Russian persons or entities,” or “equity or debt investments by you or [The Trump Organization] in Russian entities.” The letter does not define “Russian” or purport to determine whether or to what extent individuals from Russia, Ukraine, or other former Soviet-bloc countries may have used shell corporations through which they may have conducted transactions with Trump businesses. Months earlier, Dillon had developed and presented Trump’s business conflicts of interest plan whereby Trump retained all ownership in his businesses. [Added May 15, 2017]
  • Also on May 12, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) — a unit that specializes in combating money-laundering — will share financial records with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. [Added May 15, 2017]
  • May 15, 2017: At his daily press conference, Sean Spicer refuses — seven times — to answer whether Trump is secretly recording his conversations. [Added May 18, 2017]
  • Also May 15, 2017: National security adviser H.R. McMaster issues a 40-second “non-denial denial” of the Washington Post story that Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence to Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Lavrov. McMaster says, “The story that came out tonight as reported is false… At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” The Post story had said nothing about disclosure of “intelligence sources and methods.” “I was in the room,” McMaster concludes, “It didn’t happen.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who also attended the Oval Office meeting with the Russians, issues a statement saying the group “did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.” [Added May 18, 2017]
  • May 16, 2017: In response to press reports that former FBI Director James Comey had written a contemporaneous memorandum documenting Trump’s Feb. 14 request to halt the Flynn investigation,the White House issues an unattributed statement that concludes: “This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.” [Added May 17, 2017]
  • Also on May 16, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added May 18, 2017]

  • Also on May 16, 2017: National security adviser McMaster tells reporters repeatedly that Trump’s disclosure of intelligence with the Russians was “wholly appropriate.” As his press conference ends, McMaster says that Trump “wasn’t even aware where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.” [Added May 18, 2017]
  • May 17, 2017: Putin offers to provide the US Congress with transcripts of the May 10 Oval Office conversations among Trump, the Russian ambassador, and Russia’s foreign minister. [Added May 18, 2017]
  • Also on May 17, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference with the election. In a White House statement, Trump says, “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.” [Added May 18, 2017]
  • May 18, 2017: Trump tweets:


    [Added May 18, 2017]

  • Also on May 18, 2017: At a joint news conference with the president of Colombia, a reporter asks Trump whether he ever asked former Director Comey to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn. “No. No,” Trump answers. “Next question.” He goes on to characterize the ongoing Trump/Russia investigation as “totally ridiculous” and a “witch hunt.” Then he adds, “Director Comey was very unpopular with most people, I actually thought when I made that decision. And I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.” [Added May 22, 2017]
  • May 19, 2017: The Washington Post reports that federal investigators in the Trump/Russia matter have identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest. [Added May 22, 2017]
  • Also on May 19, 2017: Vice President Pence faces added scrutiny on what he knew about Flynn’s connections to Turkey and Russia — and when he knew it. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee post a Nov. 18, 2017 letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to Pence, who at the time was vice president-elect and chair of the presidential transition team. The letter expressed concerns about national security adviser-designate Flynn’s ties to those countries. In response to the posting, Pence’s spokesperson states, “The vice president stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding Gen. Flynn’s ties to Turkey and fully supports the President’s decision to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.” A White House aide adds, “I’m not sure we saw the letter.” Democrats on the House Oversight Committee then post the formal Nov. 28, 2016 transition team message acknowledging receipt of Cummings’ letter[Added May 22, 2017]
  • Also on May 19, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee announces that former FBI Director Comey will testify in a public hearing after Memorial Day. [Added May 22, 2017]
  • Also on May 19, 2017: Reuters reports on efforts by White House lawyers to undermine Robert Mueller’s credibility. They’re particularly interested in a rule that restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating clients of their former employer for at least one year. By executive order on Jan. 28, 2017, Trump had extended that period to two years; however, the Justice Department can waive the rule. Mueller’s law firm WilmerHale represents Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, but the firm says that Mueller has not personally worked with any Trump-related clients. Meanwhile, CNN reports that White House lawyers are also researching impeachment procedures. [Added May 22, 2017]
  • May 22, 2017: Rather than produce documents in response to a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mike Flynn invokes his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Paul Manafort and Roger Stone produced some documents in response to the committee’s request. [Added May 25, 2017]
  • May 23, 2017: Former CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committeethat during the summer of 2016, he noticed suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and associates of Trump’s campaign. Brennan says that he knew the US election was under Russian attack and feared that the Trump campaign might be aiding the effort. [Added May 25, 2017]
  • May 24, 2017: In response to media reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ application for national security clearance had failed to disclose his contacts with Russian officials, Sessions says he was “instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.” [Added May 30, 2017]
  • May 26, 2017: The Washington Post reports on Kushner’s Dec. 1 or 2 meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak at which, according to Kislyak, Kushner requested a secret and secure communication channel between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. In mid-December, an anonymous letter had tipped off The Post to what Kushner had supposedly said at the meeting. Former US intelligence officials described the idea of a backchannel using a hostile foreign power’s facilities is “disturbing” and “dangerous.” [Added May 30, 2017]
  • Also on May 26, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded the Trump campaign to produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records dating to June 2015, when the campaign was launched. [Added May 30, 2017]
  • May 27, 2017: Reuters reports that Jared Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during and after the presidential campaign. Two were phone calls between April and November. His attorney says that Kushner “has no recollection of the calls as described” and asks Reuters for the dates that they allegedly occurred. [Added May 30, 2017]
  • May 28, 2017: In three Sunday morning talk show appearances, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says that if Kushner was trying to a create a backchannel to communicate with the Russian government, it was a “good thing.” Veteran diplomatic and intelligence experts remain unconvinced. [Added May 30, 2017]
  • May 31, 2017: The House Intelligence Committee approves the issuance of subpoenas to Mike Flynn, Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, and the businesses that each of them runs. Separately, several news outlets report that House Committee Chairman Nunes, who had recused himself from the committee’s Trump/Russia investigation, issued subpoenas to former Obama administration officials on the issue of “unmasking” — revealing the names of persons referenced in intelligence reports. [Added June 5, 2017]
  • Also on May 31, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration is moving toward returning two suspected espionage compounds to Russia. When President Obama issued new sanctions on Dec. 29, he said that the compounds — located in New York and Maryland — were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and had given Russia 24 hours to vacate them. [Added June 5, 2017]
  • Also on May 31, 2017: Sergey Gorkov, head of Russian bank VEB, refuses to comment in response to reporters’ questions about his December 2016 meeting with Jared Kushner. [Added June 5, 2017]
  • June 1, 2017: Putin tells reporters that “patriotically minded” private Russian hackers might have been involved in cyberattacks that interfered with the US election. “We’re not doing this on the state level,” Putin says. [Added June 5, 2017]
  • June 2, 2017: Special counsel Robert Mueller assumes control over a federal grand jury criminal investigation of Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey, as well as the criminal investigation involving Paul Manafort[Added June 5, 2017]
  • June 8, 2017: FBI Director Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He expands on prepared remarks detailing his conversations with Trump on Jan. 27 (“loyalty dinner”), Feb. 14 (“let Flynn go”), March 30 (“lift the cloud”), and April 11 (“get out the word”). Asked why Trump fired him, Comey says, “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.” On the subject of whether Trump recorded their conversations, Comey says, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” Later, he continues: “It never occurred to me before the president’s tweet. I’m not being facetious. I hope there are, and I’ll consent to the release of them … All I can do is hope. The president knows if he taped me, and if he did, my feelings aren’t hurt. Release all the tapes. I’m good with it.” [Added June 12, 2017]
  • Also on June 8, 2017: Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, issues a statement saying that Trump “feels completely vindicated” by Comey’s testimony. Shortly thereafter, reports circulate that Trump’s legal team is planning to file a complaint with the Justice Department inspector general against Comey for “leaking” memos of his conversations with Trump. [Added June 12, 2017]
  • June 9, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added June 12, 2017]

  • Also on June 9, 2017: Trump accuses Comey of lying under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee and agrees “100 percent” to provide his version of events under oath. He refuses to answer whether he has tapes of his conversations with Comey. [Added June 12, 2017]
  • Also on June 11, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added June 12, 2017]

  • Also on June 11, 2017: The New York Times reports that in recent days, White House aides had asked Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, if it was also time for them to hire personal lawyers. Kasowitz, according to a Times source, said it was not yet necessary. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 12, 2017: After visiting the White House, Trump’s longtime friend and chief executive of Newsmax Media, Chris Ruddy, says on the PBS NewsHour that Trump “is considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel,” Robert Mueller. When asked about the report, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders says, “While the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so.” [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 13, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added June 19, 2017]

  • Also on June 13, 2017: Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein says he would need “good cause” to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and he hasn’t seen any yet. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 13, 2017: Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee about earlier news reports that he had met in April 2016 with Russian Ambassador Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says, “If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it.” When asked for details about his September 2016 meeting with Kislyak, Sessions can’t recall them. Sessions acknowledges that after Trump met privately with then-FBI Director Comey on Feb. 14, 2017, Comey told Sessions the next day never to leave him alone with Trump again. When asked about his conversations with Trump about Comey prior to Comey’s firing on May 9, Sessions refers back to Rosenstein’s memo. Beyond that, Sessions admits that Trump has not invoked executive privilege to block Sessions from answering, but Sessions refuses to answer anyway. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 14, 2017: The Washington Post reports that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 15, 2017: Trump tweets:




    [Added June 19, 2017]

  • Also on June 15, 2017: Vice President Pence hires an outside attorney to deal with issues arising from the Trump/Russia investigation. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 15, 2017: The Washington Post reports that, “according to US officials familiar with the matter,” special counsel Mueller is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 15, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein issues a press release cautioning Americans against reliance on stories based on “anonymous ‘officials’” and “anonymous allegations.” [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 16, 2017: Trump tweets:



    [Added June 19, 2017]

  • Also on June 16, 2017: ABC News reports that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has acknowledged to colleagues that he may have to recuse himself from the Trump/Russia investigation. Reportedly, he informed Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand — whom the Senate had confirmed on May 18 — that she would then assume supervisory responsibility for special counsel Mueller’s investigation. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 16, 2017: House investigators reportedly want to interview Brad Parscale, digital director of Trump’s campaign. Investigators were digging into Jared Kushner’s role overseeing data operations for the campaign. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 18, 2017: Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, one of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, counters Trump’s tweet about “being investigated.” Sekulow says, “There is not an investigation of the president of the United States, period.” He asserts a similar position on Fox News Sunday and CNN’s State of the Union. Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Sekulow says, “The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation.” Later in the interview, he says, “There has been no notification from the special counsel’s office that the president is under investigation.” When asked if the special counsel had an obligation to notify Trump if he were under investigation, Sekulow responds, “I can’t imagine a scenario where the president would not be aware of it.” Referring to the president’s power to fire the FBI director, Sekulow adds, “The president cannot be investigated, or certainly cannot be found liable for engaging in an activity he clearly has power to do under the constitution.” [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 18, 2017: In response to reports that Jared Kushner is seeking to supplement his legal team with experienced criminal defense lawyers, his lead attorney, Jamie Gorelick, says, “After the appointment of our former partner Robert Mueller as special counsel, we advised Mr. Kushner to obtain the independent advice of a lawyer with appropriate experience as to whether he should continue with us as his counsel.” [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 20, 2017: White House press secretary Sean Spicer says he doesn’t know if Trump believes that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • June 21, 2017: Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division says that individuals connected to the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states. A week earlier, Bloomberg had reported that Russian hackers had tried to penetrate voting systems in 39 states. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • Also on June 21, 2017: The New York Times reports that the White House has been lobbying the House of Representatives to weaken the Senate bill that would limit Trump’s power to curtail Russian sanctions. The bipartisan legislation had passed the Senate a week earlier, and would allow Congress to thwart any effort by the White House to curtail those sanctions without congressional approval. On June 20, the Treasury Department issued sanctions directed against more than three dozen Russian individuals and organizations that had participated in the country’s incursion into Ukraine. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • June 22, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added June 26, 2017]

  • June 23, 2017: In an interview on Fox & Friends, Trump says that special counsel Robert Mueller is “very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome… Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey.” Asked about Mueller’s legal team, Trump says, “I can say that the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters. Some of them worked for Hillary Clinton. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous if you want to know the truth.” [Added June 26, 2017]
  • Also on June 23, 2017: In a two-sentence response to the House Intelligence Committee’s prior request for any and all records memorializing conversations between Trump and James Comey, the White House refers to and quotes from Trump’s June 22, 2017 tweets (above) and provides no other information. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • Also on June 23, 2017: The New York Times reports that federal investigators and the New York state attorney general are looking into Paul Manafort’s real estate dealings in recent years. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • Also on June 23, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added June 26, 2017]

  • June 24, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added June 26, 2017]

  • June 25, 2017: Interviewing Kellyanne Conway on ABC News’ This Week, George Stephanopoulos says, “The president said he did not tape James Comey, but I am confused by the top part of that . Does the president have any evidence at all that his personal conversations were somehow taped? And has he asked the intelligence agencies for that evidence?” When Conway doesn’t answer those questions directly, Stephanopoulos persists, “Has the president asked the intelligence agencies if they have any tapes of his conversations? Does he know if they have that? Does he have any evidence to back up that suggestion that he put out in the tweet?” Conway answers, “I’m not going to comment on his conversations with his intelligence community… I mean, what are we talking about here with this never-ending Russian discussion?” [Added June 26, 2017]
  • June 26, 2017: Trump tweets:


    [Added June 26, 2017]

  • Also on June 26, 2017: Jared Kushner’s lawyers confirm that he has added a prominent criminal defense trial lawyer, Abbe Lowell, to his legal team. [Added July 3, 2017]
  • June 27, 2017: Paul Manafort registers retroactively as a foreign agent. Between 2012 and 2014 he received more than $17 million from the pro-Russia political party (“Party of Regions”) that dominated Ukraine before its leader, then-President Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Moscow amid a popular uprising in 2014. As part of the filing, Manafort discloses that he met in 2013 with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an outspoken California Republican who has often called for a closer relationship between the US and Russia. [Added July 3, 2017]
  • July 6, 2017: En route to the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany where he will meet privately with Vladimir Putin, Trump stops in Poland to deliver a speech. At a news conference NBC News’ Hallie Jackson asks: “Can you once and for all, yes or no, definitively say that Russia interfered in the 2016 election?” Trump answers, “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could have been other people in other countries and I won’t be specific.” He then excoriates President Obama for doing “nothing” in the face of the Obama administration’s conclusion that Russian meddling was underway. “The reason is, he thought Hillary was going to win,” Trump continues. Pressed again on whether he agrees with the “definitive” conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the election, Trump says, “I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries…. Nobody really knows for sure. I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what — that led to one big mess. They were wrong.” [Added July 11, 2017]
  • Also on July 6, 2017: The Financial Times reports that Felix Sater has agreed to cooperate in an international investigation of a Kazakh family’s real estate dealings. The head of the family — Viktor Khrapunov, a former Kazakh minister now exiled in Switzerland — is reportedly under investigation for allegations that he embezzled government funds and hid the cash in other countries throughout the world, including the US. Deeds and banking records obtained by the Financial Times show that in April 2013, members of the Khrapunov family purchased three apartments in Trump SoHo for a grand total price of $3.1 million from a holding company in which Trump held a stake. [Added July 11, 2017]
  • July 7, 2017: For the first time since the 2016 election, Trump meets Vladimir Putin. The only other attendees to their private two-and-a-half hour session are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and two interpreters. [Added July 11, 2017]
  • Also on July 7, 2017: In an off-camera interview with the press after the Trump/Putin meeting, Tillerson says that Trump opened the session by “raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election…. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.” Responding to a later question about whether Trump “was unequivocal in his view that Russia did interfere in the election,” Tillerson says, “The Russians have asked for proof and evidence. I’ll leave that to the intelligence community to address the answer to that question. And again, I think the president, at this point, he pressed him and then felt like at this point let’s talk about how do we go forward.” [Added July 11, 2017]
  • Also on July 7, 2017: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov offers a different version of the Trump/Putin meeting, saying, “President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements. That’s all.” [Added July 11, 2017]
  • July 8, 2017: At a press conference concluding the G-20 summit, Putin responds to questions about whether Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a subject of their private meeting. “[Trump] really was interested in some details. I, as far as I could, answered all this in detail,” Putin says through a translator at the press conference, which a Russian state-owned news channel broadcasted. “He asked me, I answered. He asked clarifying questions, I explained. He appeared to me satisfied with these answers.” [Added July 11, 2017]
  • Also on July 8, 2017: The New York Times first reports the story of the June 9, 2016 meeting that Donald Jr. had arranged with Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. In response, Donald Jr. issues this statement: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up… I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.” [Added July 11, 2017]
  • July 9, 2017: As The New York Times prepares to report that the Russian lawyer with whom Donald Jr., Kushner and Manafort met on June 9, 2016 was supposedly going to be offering them damaging information on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. issues a new statement changing his story from less than 24 hours earlier: “I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office. The meeting lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes. As it ended, my acquaintance apologized for taking up our time. That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.” [Added July 11, 2017]
  • July 10, 2017: Donald Trump Jr. tweets:

    [Added July 11, 2017]

  • Also on July 10, 2017: Donald Trump Jr. confirms that he has hired a criminal defense attorney to represent him in connection with the Trump/Russia probe. [Added July 11, 2017]
  • Also on July 10, 2017: The New York Times reports on the email from Rob Goldstone to Donald Jr. preceding the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower among Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties. [Added July 11, 2017]
  • July 11, 2017: Donald Jr. posts his June 3-8, 2016 email exchanges with Rob Goldstone that culminate in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the person Goldstone described as a “Russian government attorney.” In his accompanying statement, Donald Jr. says that he knew Emin from the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. “Emin and his father have a very highly respected company in Moscow,” he continues. “The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was political opposition research…To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue.” [Added July 11, 2017]
  • Also on July 11, 2017: Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reports that earlier plans with the Agalarovs to build a Trump Tower in Moscow continued into 2014 and collapsed because the US imposed sanctions on Russia. [Added July 17, 2017]
  • Also on July 11, 2017: The Russian Business Council hosts what it calls a “farewell reception” for Ambassador Kislyak, who is leaving his post in Washington and returning to Moscow. [Revised July 24, 2017]
  • July 12, 2017: Trump tells Reuters that he had learned only recently about the June 9, 2016 meeting among Don Jr., Kushner, Manafort and a Russian lawyer. “I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this,” he said. Trump repeats that assertion while speaking with reporters that night on Air Force One en route to Paris. “I only heard about it two or three days ago,” he says. But then he adds, “In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point,” but when asked if he had been told that the meeting was about sharing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, he says no. [Added July 17, 2017]
  • Also on July 12, 2017: In a Fox News interview, Vice President Mike Pence’s spokesperson refuses to answer directly whether Pence ever met with any Russians during the presidential campaign. [Added July 17, 2017]
  • Also on July 12, 2017: AP reports that on May 12, 2017 — two days before a scheduled start of a major Russian money laundering criminal trial in New York federal court — the Justice Department approved a settlement of the case for less than $6 million. Allegedly, the action involved more than a $230 million fraud scheme. Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer who had met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort on June 9, 2016 — had represented the defendant (the owner of a Russian real estate investment firm). When he announced the filing of the complaint in 2013, then-US Attorney Preet Bharara said, “As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.” Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee request that the Justice Department provide information about the circumstances surrounding the settlement by July 26, 2017. [Added July 17, 2017]
  • July 13, 2017: The Chicago Tribune reports that on May 14, 2017, Peter W. Smith was found dead in a Rochester, Minnesota hotel room. The GOP operative from Lake Forest, Illinois had died about 10 days after an interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he claimed during the campaign to have connections to Trump adviser Mike Flynn. Smith had told The Journal that over the Labor Day weekend 2016, he began trying to recruit a team of experts to find any emails that were stolen from the private email server that Hillary Clinton used while she was secretary of state. Smith’s Minnesota state death record says he committed suicide by asphyxiation. The police had recovered a note that included these lines; “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” — “RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017” and timing related “TO LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING.” The Wall Street Journal reporter who had interviewed Smith in May tweets:

    [Added July 17, 2017]

  • Also on July 13, 2017: Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff reports that President Trump’s legal team had been informed more than three weeks earlier about the email chain arranging a June 2016 meeting between his son Donald Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. [Added July 17, 2017]
  • July 14, 2017: NBC News reports, “The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others on the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some US officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence.” The lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, confirms to the Associated Press that he attended the meeting. He tells AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence, but was never formally trained as a spy. Akhmetshin also says the Russian lawyer at the meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, presented the Trump associates with details of what she believed were illicit funds that had been funneled to the Democratic National Committee. And she suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign. “This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalls her saying. He says the attorney brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents, but he was unaware of the content of the documents or whether they were provided by the Russian government, and it was unclear whether she left the materials with the Trump associates. [Added July 17, 2017]
  • Also on July 14, 2017: CNN reports that the June 9, 2016 meeting included more than just the six previously reported participants: Kushner, Manafort, Don Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, former Soviet counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin and a translator. According to CNN, at least two others — including a representative of the Agalarov family — also attended. [Added July 17, 2017]
  • Also on July 14, 2017: Jared Kushner’s attorney, Jamie Gorelick, announces she is no longer representing Kushner on Russia-related inquiries. [Added July 17, 2017]
  • July 17, 2017: Trump tweets about his top campaign advisers’ June 9, 2016 meeting with the Russians:

    [Added July 24, 2017]

  • Also on July 17, 2017: In his daily press briefing, Sean Spicer repeats the debunked claim that at their June 9, 2017 meeting, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and the Russians discussed only the adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act. (The 2012 US law froze the assets of particular Russians suspected of human rights abuses and barred them from entering the US. It also prompted Putin to ban such adoptions by Americans.) “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act,” Spicer says.  [Added July 24, 2017]
  • July 18, 2017: CNN and The Washington Post reveal the identity of the eighth person at a secret June 9, 2016 meeting among Trump’s top campaign advisers and several Russians. In addition to the previously reported attendees — Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Emin Agalarov’s publicist Rob Goldstone, Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, former Soviet counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin and translator Anatoli Samochornov — Aras Agalarov sent one of his associates, Ike Kaveladze, to the meeting. According to Agalarov’s lawyer, Kaveladze is a vice president focusing on real estate and finance for Agalarov’s company, the Crocus Group.
    Kaveladze has an interesting history. Born in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, he came to the United States in 1991. In 2000, a Congressional inquiry led to a Government Accounting Office report that Kaveladze had set up more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers and then opened the bank accounts for them, without knowing who owned the corporations. According to contemporaneous reporting in The New York Times, “The GAO report said nothing about the sources of the money. In view of past investigations into laundering, this wave was highly likely to have arisen from Russian executives who were seeking to avoid taxes, although some money could be from organized crime… In an interview, Mr. Kaveladze said he had engaged in no wrongdoing. He described the GAO investigation as a ‘witch hunt.’” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 18, 2017: After revelation of the second, previously undisclosed privatediscussion between Trump and Putin at the G-20 summit on July 7, Trump tweets:


    [Added July 24, 2017]

  • July 19, 2017: The Trump administration reveals it has ended the covert American program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad — a move that Russia had long sought. [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 19, 2017: In an expansive interview with reporters for The New York Times, Trump discusses his most recently disclosed second conversation with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit. “So the meal was going,” Trump says, “and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump talks about the June 9, 2016 meeting among his top campaign advisers and several Russians: “As I’ve said — most other people, you know, when they call up and say, ‘By the way, we have information on your opponent,’ I think most politicians — I was just with a lot of people, they said [inaudible], ‘Who wouldn’t have taken a meeting like that?’” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump also talks about the email exchange in which Don Jr. set up the June 9 meeting: “Well, I never saw the email. I never saw the email until, you know—” When asked if he knew about the meeting at the time, Trump says, “No, I didn’t know anything about the meeting… No, nobody told me. I didn’t know noth— It’s a very unimportant — sounded like a very unimportant meeting.” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump lashes out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.” Later, he continues, “What Jeff Sessions did was he recused himself right after, right after he became attorney general. And I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’ I would have — then I said, ‘Who’s your deputy?’ So his deputy he hardly knew, and that’s Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump talks about his meetings with then-FBI Director Comey.

    Of the Jan. 6, 2017, meeting, when Comey told Trump about the infamous Steele dossier, Trump said: “He shared it so that I would think he had it out there” as leverage against Trump.Of the Feb. 14, 2017, meeting, when Trump said he hoped Comey could see his way to “letting Flynn go,” Trump said: “He said I said ‘hope’ — ‘I hope you can treat Flynn good’ or something like that. I didn’t say anything. But even if he did — like I said at the news conference on the, you know, Rose Garden — even if I did, that’s not — other people go a step further. I could have ended that whole thing just by saying — they say it can’t be obstruction because you can say: ‘It’s ended. It’s over. Period.’”

    “Did you shoo other people out of the room when you talked to Comey?” the reporters ask.

    “No, no,” Trump answers. “No. That was the other thing. I told people to get out of the room. Why would I do that?”

    “Did you actually have a one-on-one with Comey then?” asks the Times reporter.

    “Not much,” Trump says. “Not even that I remember. He was sitting, and I don’t remember even talking to him about any of this stuff. He said I asked people to go. Look, you look at his testimony. His testimony is loaded up with lies, OK?” [Added July 24, 2017]

  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump talks about the Rosenstein memo used to cover up the reasons he fired Comey: “Then Rosenstein becomes extremely angry because of Comey’s Wednesday press conference, where he said that he would do the same thing he did a year ago with Hillary Clinton, and Rosenstein became extremely angry at that because, as a prosecutor, he knows that Comey did the wrong thing. Totally wrong thing. And he gives me a letter, OK, he gives me a letter about Comey. And by the way, that was a tough letter, OK. Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, OK. But he gives me a very strong letter, and now he’s involved in the case. Well, that’s a conflict of interest.” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump discusses special counsel Mueller, whom Trump had interviewed for the FBI director job. “The day before! Of course, he was up here, and he wanted the job,” Trump says, “So, now what happens is, he leaves the office. [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein leaves the office. The next day, he is appointed special counsel. I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts? But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”
    Asked if Mueller’s investigation into his and his family’s finances unrelated to Russia would be a breach of Mueller’s charge, Trump answers, “I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years…” Asked what would happen if Mueller went “outside of certain parameters” of his charge, Trump says, “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • July 20, 2017: The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg report that Mueller is looking at possible money laundering by Paul Manafort. Bloomberg adds that the special counsel is also investigating “a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates.” They include “Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008.” One of Trump’s lawyers responds that such transactions are, in his view, “well beyond the mandate of the special counsel.” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 20, 2017: The Senate Judiciary Committee reveals that it has pre-approved subpoenas for Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort. According to chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), if Don Jr. and Manafort do not accept the committee’s invitation to appear the following week, the subpoenas will issue “almost immediately.” Meanwhile, Jared Kushner is also scheduled to appear for a staff interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee the following week. [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 20, 2017: The New York Times and The Washington Post report that Trump’s lawyers are investigating possible ways to limit or block Mueller’s investigation, including possible conflicts of interest involving members of Mueller’s legal team, as well as the president’s power to pardon associates, family members and himself. One of Trump’s attorneys responds that the story is “nonsense.” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • July 21, 2017: Reuters reports that from 2005 to 2013, Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer in attendance at the June 9, 2016 meeting that included Kushner, Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. — represented successfully the Russian FSB’s interests in a legal dispute over ownership of an upscale property in northwest Moscow. The FSB is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB that Vladimir Putin headed before he became Russian president. [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 21, 2017: The Washington Post breaks the story that US intelligence intercepts of Russian Ambassador Kislyak’s reports to Moscow of his conversations with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in April and July 2016 are at odds with Sessions’ repeated denials about the content of those discussions. The intercepts purportedly reveal that Sessions and Kislyak “had ‘substantive’ discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for US-Russia relations in a Trump administration.” A Justice Department spokesperson responds that Sessions “never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election.” She does not deny that Sessions discussed campaign or policy issues more generally with Kislyak. [Added July 24, 2017]
  • July 22, 2017: Trump tweets:



    [Added July 24, 2017]

  • July 23, 2017: Making the Sunday morning talk show rounds, one of Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, and communications director Anthony Scaramucci deny that Trump is considering a pardon for anyone. Scaramucci also says that he spoke with Trump about whether Russia had hacked the election and Trump had told him, “Maybe they did it. Maybe they didn’t do it.” [Added July 24, 2017]
  • Also on July 23, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added July 24,2017]

  • July 24, 2017: Trump tweets:

    [Added July 24, 2017]

  • July 24, 2017: Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session, Kushner describes his three previously disclosed contacts with Russian officials prior to the inauguration, as well as a fourth previously undisclosed meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak on April 27, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel. Kushner says that he doesn’t recall either of the two calls with Kislyak between April and November 2016 that Reuters had previously reported, and he is “highly skeptical those calls took place.” He says he attended the June 9, 2016 meeting with Don Jr., Manafort and several Russians only for “10 or so minutes,” and when he got there, they were “talking about the issue of a ban on US adoptions of Russian children.” Kushner acknowledges his post-election meeting with Mike Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak at Trump Tower, at which Kushner says he asked if Kislyak had “an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to Gen. Flynn.” But Kushner denies that he was suggesting a “secret back channel.” Finally, Kushner acknowledges a Dec. 13, 2016 meeting with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, who, Kushner believed at the time, had “a direct line to the Russian president, who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.” Kushner says that his ongoing revisions to his security clearance form SF-86 were the result of a “prematurely submitted” original application.
    Kushner’s prepared remarks conclude: “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required. Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest.” [Added July 24, 2017]

The dumbing down of normal: Trump’s top 10

One of the casualties of the first six months of the Trump presidency is a common understanding of what is normal in our politics. It’s easy to grow numb to abnormal actions, words and tactics.

But even our readers who love or feel loyalty to Trump need to remember that it’s just not normal.

Why it matters: We’re getting inured to the daily whirlwind. Each day’s jaw drop or outrage seems to be topped by tomorrow’s. Keep your head, even if all about you are losing theirs.

  1. It’s not normal for the presumptive nominee’s son to take a meeting with a Russian lawyer who claims she has dirt compiled by Russian governmental forces who want to see your guy win.
  2. It’s not normal for the President to sign off on a public cover-up of that meeting when confronted with the facts.
  3. It’s not normal for the President to hold a Cabinet meeting that consists of his staff gushing over him.
  4. It’s not normal for the President to undermine his West Wing staff by continually asking friends and visitors for their opinions on various replacement options.
  5. It’s not normal for the President to make a deal with his Russian counterpart for an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit,” let his Treasury Secretary out on a Sunday show to enthusiastically defend the idea, then pull the plug that night after ridicule from fellow Republicans.
  6. It’s not normal for the President to interrupt his day to watch the press briefing on TV, and critiquing the answers à la “SportsCenter.”
  7. It’s not normal for the President to obsess about cable-news coverage of himself, and instantly react to stories before checking the specifics.
  8. It’s not normal for the President to irritate and offend key allies by failing to re-articulate the country’s devotion to their alliance, only to offer the reassurance weeks later, after the damage is done.
  9. It’s not normal for the President to publicly criticize the mayor of London on the basis of flawed facts, right after a terror attack that killed seven.
  10. It’s not normal for the President to attack TV news hosts by name, including a personal attack on a woman’s intellect and appearance.




Game of Trump


Maureen Dowd
Maureen Dowd

WASHINGTON — Wicked siblings willing to do anything for power. Secret deals with sworn enemies. The shock of a dead body. A Wall. Foreign bawds, guns for hire, and snakes. Back-stabbing, betrayal and charges of treason. Little birds spying and tattling. A maniacal mad king and his court of scheming, self-absorbed princesses and princelings, swathed in the finest silk and the most brazen immorality, ruling with total disregard for the good of their people.

The night in Washington is dark and full of terrors. The Game of Trump has brought a pagan lawlessness never before seen in the capital.

So far in life, Donald Trump has survived and thrived on the same philosophy espoused by Littlefinger in “Game of Thrones”: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”

But is the rampant deception and corruption in his gaudy, jangly realm about to engulf the Emperor of Chaos? Is this the grisly endgame for Cersei in King’s Landing and Donald in Washington? A talent to distract on Twitter, our Joffrey-like president will learn, is not the same as the ability to walk through fire.

The crowds are swelling, yelling: “Shame. Shame. Shame.”

Hugging their tattered brand, the family tried for a respite this weekend. Ivanka and Jared fled to Sun Valley to hang out with the global elite at Herb Allen’s conference. After escaping to the City of Light for Bastille Day — poor battered Sean Spicer had to settle for a party at the French Embassy here — Trump and Melania were going to his Bedminster club to attend the U.S. Women’s Open being held there. (Some women protested, saying the Open should be closed to Donald Trump.)

Trump always inflates his numbers, using his own special brand of ego arithmetic. But Don Jr. and Jared have been busy deflating their numbers.

Don Jr. pooh-poohed the meeting revealed in The New York Times’s scoop that he met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with Kremlin contacts, and Rob Goldstone, a publicist who represents a Russian pop star who featured Trump in his music video. But it later turned out there was more to the picture.

First we learned there were six, not four, people in the meeting, including a lobbyist who just happened to be a former member of the Soviet unit dealing in counterintelligence. Then we found out there were eight. Next, we’ll find out Putin was FaceTiming from Moscow.

Don Jr. was not ashamed that he had gleefully met with Russians to collect dirt on Hillary Clinton. He was only annoyed, as he told Sean Hannity in the womb of Fox News, that the meeting turned out to be “a nothing” and “just a wasted 20 minutes.” The thought that it was improper has not entered his mind.

Jared Kushner has had to amend his list of foreign contacts three times, adding more than 100 names that had somehow eluded him. “His lawyers have said this was inadvertent and that a member of his staff had prematurely hit the ‘send’ button for the form before it was completed,” Michael Isikoff wrote in Yahoo News.

No one in Washington, a land intimately familiar with obnoxiously oppressive forms, believed that. As Vox noted: “But the thing is, there isn’t one ‘send button’ for this kind of security clearance form. There are 28.”

As theater, the Trump saga is spectacular, with a dazzling collection of fools and jesters. Who could make up Rob Goldstone, the rotund, vodka-swilling, chocolate-inhaling, British publicist who liked to party at the Russian Tea Room?

The Daily Beast recalled that back in the ’80s, when Goldstone represented John Denver and Michael Jackson, he went to Ethiopia for Band Aid, a rock concert to help famine victims, and managed to gain seven pounds. As he explained to The Sydney Morning Herald, “I mean, what else is there to do in a country like Ethiopia but eat?” In 2010, Goldstone wrote an essay in The Times on “The Tricks and Trials of Traveling While Fat.”

And who possibly could concoct Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz? According to ProPublica, after a man watching Rachel Maddow emailed Kasowitz Wednesday telling him to “Resign Now,” the lawyer shot back with a bunch of nasty messages, such as “Watch your back, bitch” and “I already know where you live, I’m on you. … You will see me. I promise. Bro.”

Kasowitz, ProPublica reports, has a drinking problem that could hamper him getting a security clearance. He has grown increasingly frustrated by Trump’s lack of discipline as the president sulks and rages in his tent over the Russia labyrinth, according to The Washington Post.

So this lawyer is the one trying to instill discipline in that president?

In an interview with reporters on Air Force One on the way to Paris, President Trump once more tried to deflect blame from Russia for the election hacks. “And I’m not saying it wasn’t Russia,” he said. “What I’m saying is that we have to protect ourselves no matter who it is. You know, China is very good at this. I hate to say it, North Korea is very good at this. Look what they did to Sony Studios.”

He bragged about his cunning when he brought up the hacks with Putin. After citing it once, Trump said, “I then said to him again, in a totally different way.”

 Wow. That must have really outfoxed the lethal former K.G.B. agent. You know nothing, Donald Trump.


Trump defended his beleaguered oldest son — who is the same age as Emmanuel Macron — as “a good boy.” Don Jr. certainly learned Trump family values.

In the immortal words of the villainous Ramsay Bolton on “Game of Thrones”: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

Trump & National Enquirer connection

Every Wednesday afternoon, in a windowless conference room in an office building at the tip of lower Manhattan, David Pecker decides what will be on the cover of the following week’s National Enquirer. Pecker is the longtime chief executive of American Media, Inc., which owns most of the nation’s supermarket tabloids and gossip magazines, including the Star, the Globe, the Examiner, and OK!, as well as the flagship Enquirer. Pecker’s tabloids have few subscribers and minimal advertising. Virtually all their revenue comes from impulse purchases at the checkout counter. A successful Enquirer cover can drive sales fifteen per cent above the weekly average of three hundred and twenty-five thousand copies, and a lemon can hurt sales just as badly, so the choice of cover headlines and photographs represents a nearly existential challenge every week.

Pecker started in the media business as an accountant, and he has attempted to impose a numbers-based rigor on the raucous world of tabloids. In the past decade, he has devised a proprietary database of the covers of all celebrity magazines, including those of his competitors. The “cover explorer,” as it’s known internally, tells A.M.I. executives how each cover sold in comparison with the magazine’s four- and thirteen-week averages. The explorer is indexed by celebrities and, uniquely, by words in the headlines. Pecker knows with some precision which stars sell (Kelly Ripa, Jennifer Aniston, Brad and Angelina, and, for the older generation, Dolly Parton and the Kennedys), and which phrases draw readers (headlines with the words “sad last days” and “six months to live”).

To open a recent meeting, Pecker, who was calling in on speakerphone from Dallas, asked Dylan Howard, A.M.I.’s chief content officer, to review the competition’s covers from the previous week. Howard, an ebullient Australian, is thirty-five, and something of a tabloid prodigy. He made his name with a three-year quest to prove that the actor Charlie Sheen had contracted H.I.V. (which Sheen ultimately acknowledged), and now supervises celebrity coverage for Pecker’s empire. Shuffling through a stack of magazines in front of him, Howard pulled out Life & Style, which is owned by Bauer, a German conglomerate. The issue featured Jennifer Lopez on the cover, with a headline claiming that she was expecting a child with her boyfriend, Alex Rodriguez. “her ‘miracle’ baby at 47!” the cover announced. Howard dismissed the story. “She’s forty-seven,” he said. “Of course she’s not pregnant.” But there was another reason for Howard’s disdain. “J. Lo doesn’t sell,” he said.

For the forthcoming issue of the Enquirer, Howard presented a mockup of a cover on Megyn Kelly, who would be making her début as an NBC News correspondent the week that the issue went on sale. The headline read “what she’s hiding!,” which Pecker praised because the phrase had worked well on another coverline, “what hillary’s hiding!,” during the Presidential campaign. Bullet points under the Kelly headline promised revelations about plastic surgery and a “criminal past.”

Pecker believes in constant market research, so the Enquirer conducts a rolling telephone poll in which it tests cover-story ideas, summarized in a sentence or two, on readers. Howard felt optimistic about the Kelly cover, because seventy-three per cent of respondents said that they would be interested in the story. “She got over seventy per cent, even without the benefit of seeing the cover image,” Howard said, referring to a high-school-yearbook photograph of Kelly with an eighties-style perm, which he felt would attract buyers.

For the “skyboxes,” the block headlines above the cover logo, Howard proposed an unflattering recent photograph of the actress Eva Longoria, which had tested at sixty-eight per cent, under the headline “packs on 40 pounds!” Howard explained, “We did ask the rep if she’s pregnant. Unfortunately for her, that just seems to be a burrito belly.” A photo in the other skybox was of Pamela Anderson, also in an unbecoming shot, who was, according to the headline, “destroyed by plastic surgery!”

Pecker called on Cameron Stracher, the Enquirer’s lawyer, to see if he anticipated any legal problems with the Kelly story. “We know she got the ‘comment call,’ ” Stracher said. At the Enquirer, these offers for comment on critical articles are routinely made to subjects and just as often declined. “It’s factually accurate,” Stracher continued. “She did have this surgery, she does have a criminal past, and the other stuff is opinion, really.” (In a recent memoir, Kelly acknowledged shoplifting, once, when she was twelve. So she was not “hiding” much at all.)

As the meeting wound down, the discussion turned to the following week’s issue. Someone suggested a story about a video from Donald and Melania Trump’s first overseas trip. The video, which had just gone viral, showed the couple walking down a red carpet on the airport tarmac in Israel. When Donald reached for Melania’s hand, she slapped it away with a sharp flick of her wrist.

“I didn’t see that,” Pecker said, on the speakerphone.

The half-dozen or so men in the room exchanged looks. One then noted that the footage of Melania’s slap had received a good deal of attention.

“I didn’t see that,” Pecker repeated, and the subject was dropped.

It was a telling moment. Even if the leader of a celebrity-news empire had missed the viral video from the President’s trip, Pecker’s decision to ignore the awkward moment for the First Family was not surprising. The Enquirer is defined by its predatory spirit—its dedication to revealing that celebrities, far from leading ideal lives, endure the same plagues of disease, weight gain, and family dysfunction that afflict everyone else. For much of the tabloid’s history, it has specialized in investigations into the foibles of public personalities, including politicians. In 1987, the Enquirer published a photograph of Senator Gary Hart with his mistress Donna Rice, in front of a boat called the Monkey Business, which doomed Hart’s Presidential candidacy. Two decades later, the magazine broke the news that John Edwards had fathered a child out of wedlock during his Presidential race. When Donald Trump decided to run for President, some people at the Enquirer assumed that the magazine would apply the same scrutiny to the candidate’s colorful personal history. “We used to go after newsmakers no matter what side they were on,” a former Enquirer staffer told me. “And Trump is a guy who is running for President with a closet full of baggage. He’s the ultimate target-rich environment. The Enquirer had a golden opportunity, and they completely looked the other way.”

Throughout the 2016 Presidential race, the Enquirer embraced Trump with sycophantic fervor. The magazine made its first political endorsement ever, of Trump, last spring. Cover headlines promised, “donald trump’s revenge on hillary & her puppets” and “top secret plan inside: how trump will win debate!” The publication trashed Trump’s rivals, running a dubious cover story on Ted Cruz that described him as a philanderer and another highly questionable piece that linked Cruz’s father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

It was even tougher on Hillary Clinton, regularly printing such headlines as “ ‘sociopath’ hillary clinton’s secret psych files exposed!” A 2015 piece began, “Failing health and a deadly thirst for power are driving Hillary Clinton to an early grave, The National Enquirer has learned in a bombshell investigation. The desperate and deteriorating 67-year-old won’t make it to the White House—because she’ll be dead in six months.” On election eve, the Enquirer offered a special nine-page investigation under the headline “hillary: corrupt! racist! criminal!” This blatantly skewed coverage continued after Trump took office. Post-election cover stories included “trump takes charge! success in just 36 days!” and “proof obama wiretapped trump! lies, leaks & illegal bugging.

Pecker and Trump have been friends for decades—their professional and personal lives have intersected in myriad ways—and Pecker acknowledges that his tabloids’ coverage of Trump has a personal dimension. All Presidents seek to influence the media, but Trump enjoys unusual advantages in this regard. He is also in close contact with Rupert Murdoch, whose empire includes Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. (While the Times and the Washington Post have produced repeated scoops about Trump and Russia, the Journal, which employs a large investigative staff, has largely been silent on the issue.) Unlike Murdoch, Pecker heads a fading and vaguely comic archetype of Americana; sales of the Enquirer are down ninety per cent from their peak in 1970. But the impact of the tabloids, particularly their covers, remains substantial. A.M.I. claims that a hundred million people see the Enquirer in more than two hundred thousand checkout lines around the country every week. And the Enquirer’s covers invariably include statements about celebrities that are deeply misleading, if libel-law-compliant, as well as claims about politicians that are outright lies.

Pecker is now considering expanding his business: he may bid to take over the financially strapped magazines of Time, Inc., which include Time, People, and Fortune. Based on his stewardship of his own publications, Pecker would almost certainly direct those magazines, and the journalists who work for them, to advance the interests of the President and to damage those of his opponents—which makes the story of the Enquirer and its chief executive a little more important and a little less funny.

I asked Pecker about Trump during our first lunch, at one of the posh Upper East Side restaurants that Pecker frequents. His fondness for long, wine-filled lunches is only one of the ways in which he resembles the media moguls of a bygone age. At a hale sixty-five, Pecker looks as though he could be heading out for a night at the disco. He sports the same kind of bushy mustache as the seventies porn star and period icon Harry Reems. Pecker combs his luxuriant hair straight back over the collars of his monogrammed shirts. He collects sports cars and high-end wristwatches. Still, he feels that the key to the success of the Enquirer is his engagement with his down-market readers.

Pecker said that the Enquirer’s support of Trump is a straightforward response to its audience. Since January, 2016, Enquirer issues with Trump as the main image have sold between two and fifteen per cent more than the weekly average for non-Trump covers. “They voted for Trump,” Pecker told me, speaking of his readers. “And ninety-six per cent want him reëlected today. That’s the correlation. These are white working people, who love to see takedowns of celebrities, and they want to see—which is unusual, who would think these people would love a billionaire?—the billionaire’s pulpit. They know him from fourteen seasons on ‘The Apprentice’ as the boss, and they loved it when he fired those people and ridiculed them.” Pecker conveyed this admiration to Trump directly: “I’d tell him every time I’d see him. I’d say, ‘Who cares about governor or mayor, you should be President. They love you. These people love you.’ ”

Pecker is eager to use his media empire to help his friends, especially Trump, and unabashedly boasts about doing so. Earlier this year, he bought US Weekly, the glossy celebrity magazine, from Wenner Media. (Last week, A.M.I. also bought Men’s Journal from Wenner.) He negotiated the sale primarily with twenty-six-year-old Gus Wenner, the heir apparent of the company, which was co-founded by his father, Jann. “After my first lunch with David, I called up my brother and said, ‘This guy belongs in the Smithsonian,’ ” Gus Wenner told me. “He is the type of character you just don’t come across anymore. The way he operates, the way he does business—it’s completely honorable, but it feels of another era.” The lunch took place at Le Bernardin, one of New York’s temples of haute cuisine, where Pecker is a favorite customer. “When I get there, he’s drinking champagne, and our deal isn’t even done yet,” Wenner said. “And then Éric Ripert, the chef, comes to our table, and he tells us he is working on a TV project. David says to him, ‘We should talk. I could get you some ink.’ It was all very transactional.”

Wenner was curious to hear about Pecker’s relationship with the President. “I thought I would have to pull it out of him smoothly,” he said. “But he offered it up pretty readily, and I was all ears. He was painting Donald as extremely loyal to him, and he had no issue being loyal in return. He told me very bluntly that he had killed all sorts of stories for Trump. He hired a girl to be a columnist when she threatened to go public with a story about Donald.”

Pecker denies telling Wenner that he killed stories for Trump or that he hired a columnist in order to suppress a story about Trump. Nevertheless, last year the Wall Street Journal reported that Pecker paid a hundred and fifty thousand dollars to a woman named Karen McDougal, who had alleged that she had a months-long romantic relationship with Trump, beginning in 2006, during his marriage to Melania.

When I asked Pecker about McDougal, who was Playboy’s Playmate of the Year in 1998, he told me that he first met her when she modelled for the cover of Men’s Fitness, another A.M.I. magazine. “When her people contacted me that she had a story on Trump, everybody was contacting her,” he said. “At the same time, she was launching her own beauty-and-fragrance line, and I said that I’d be very interested in having her in one of my magazines, now that she’s so famous.” But Pecker had a condition for hiring her: “Once she’s part of the company, then on the outside she can’t be bashing Trump and American Media.”

I pointed out that bashing Trump was not the same as bashing American Media.

“To me it is,” Pecker replied. “The guy’s a personal friend of mine.”

I e-mailed McDougal, who declined to discuss the matter, writing, “I don’t really like to talk about things other than my interests and passions—and that’s health, wellness, etc, etc!!”

There are still traces of David Pecker’s Bronx boyhood in his accent and his attitude. He grew up on a Jewish block in a mostly Italian neighborhood until the family moved to New Rochelle, in Westchester County. His parents were older and unwell. His father, a bricklayer, died in 1967, when David was sixteen, and David needed to work to support his mother. He started bookkeeping for local businesses, including some of the rougher-edged outfits from his old neighborhood in the Bronx. By the end of his college days, at Pace University, he was making about two thousand dollars a month, a substantial sum in the late nineteen-sixties. One of his clients was an excavating contractor who couldn’t get a license to buy explosives, because he had a criminal record. “I was the one who was able to get the license, and I received the Dynomax in the Bronx,” Pecker told me.

After passing the C.P.A. exam, Pecker went to work as an accountant for CBS, which during the seventies had a magazine division that included Car & Driver, Road & Track, Field & Stream, and Modern Bride. He moved up the ranks at CBS but chafed against the bureaucratic culture. “You could not go to the bathroom there without getting permission from somebody first,” he told me. “You couldn’t give your secretary a dollar raise, you couldn’t do anything.”

In 1987, Pecker made a deal with an entrepreneur named Peter Diamandis to buy out CBS’s magazines, some of which they sold to Hachette, a French conglomerate that owned such magazines as Paris Match and Elle, and also manufactured fighter planes. At Hachette, Pecker set out to learn about the sales, marketing, and manufacturing sides of the magazine business. Notably, he never worked as a journalist, an omission that has led him to disdain certain conventions.

In 1990, Pecker was named the president of Hachette, which later bought Premiere, a movie magazine, with the financier Ronald Perelman. In 1996, after Perelman questioned a Premiere investigation about financial problems at Planet Hollywood, a company to which Perelman had business ties, Pecker killed the story. “The last time I looked, I am the C.E.O. of this company,” Pecker told a reporter. When I asked him about the contretemps, Pecker explained it as a financial decision. “I called the editor up and I said, ‘Why are we doing an investigative piece on Planet Hollywood, when this is supposed to be a film magazine?’ ” He told the editor that he had spent two hundred thousand dollars on a research study showing that every time the magazine did an investigative piece sales went down. “I said, ‘I don’t really feel that this is appropriate.’ So he calls a news conference, resigns, and the whole staff is upset.” The actor Kevin Costner even joined in the protest, refusing to appear on the cover of the magazine. Pecker said that he told Costner, “It’s a coveted thing to be on the cover of Premiere magazine. John Travolta took it in a second.”

Pecker quickly earned a reputation for producing magazines more cheaply than his competitors could. He also invested in new projects, including George, a political magazine founded, in 1995, by John F. Kennedy, Jr. “Hachette seemed like a different kind of place than some of the other publishing companies,” Michael Berman, Kennedy’s partner on George and now the head of the investment firm Galaxy Partners, told me. “It was a little grittier than most, a little more bottom-line-oriented at the time. Not a lot of bells and whistles. Since we were going to be owners as well as implementing it, we liked that there was attention to the bottom line.” George got off to a fast start but ultimately foundered after Kennedy’s death, in a plane crash, in 1999.

Pecker has no strong political views, but he has a fascination with, and a reverence for, celebrity. Recalling his first meeting with Kennedy, Pecker told me, “It was February, he comes up on his bike, he’s outside, he has his hat over his head, he comes inside, he takes off his coat, he has a beautiful Armani suit on, and he pulled his cap off and it was like he never even had to comb his hair! I don’t understand it. I mean, every hair was perfect. Every hair was perfect!” Pecker met Trump around the time he launched George, and his relationship with the developer resembled his connection to Kennedy. Talking about an early visit to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, where he was pitching advertisers on George, Pecker described Trump’s then wife, Marla Maples: “I have never in my entire life seen a more beautiful woman in a bodysuit than Marla Maples. I mean, seriously, out of ten she was a fifteen.” For Pecker, Trump represented an aspirational figure in every dimension of life: in his glamour, his wealth, his access to beautiful women, and his style of living.

Pecker created a custom-publishing division at Hachette, producing magazines for clients who would dictate the content and then distribute them to customers. The first, Sony Style, was made for the electronics company. Pecker’s next idea was for a magazine about Donald Trump. Pecker had a home in Palm Beach, not far from Mar-a-Lago, and a neighbor there introduced him to Trump, who agreed to the project. The result was a magazine called Trump Style, which today looks like a glossy preview of the coverage Pecker later gave Trump in his tabloids. Representative samples include “Trump Tower, with its bronze façade and swaths of rose marble, combines New York City’s most glittering destination with shops both popular and posh”; “40 and Fabulous: Donald Trump’s latest real estate venture, a landmark office building at 40 Wall Street, could not be in a better location”; “A weekend at Trump Taj Mahal can’t help but be an exhilarating exercise in glamour and fun.” The magazine came out for five years and was, according to Pecker, “very successful.”

In the late nineties, just before the dot-com boom, money managers still regarded print magazines as a market for growth. In early 1999, the private-equity firm Evercore went looking for media opportunities and came upon American Media, Inc. Evercore recruited Pecker both as an investor and as the chief executive of the company, and closed a seven-hundred-and-sixty-seven-million-dollar deal for A.M.I. in March of that year. A.M.I. owned a number of magazines, but its core asset was the Enquirer.

The Enquirer has unapologetically paid for interviews and photographs since the days of its founder, Generoso Pope, Jr. Pope’s immigrant father published the highly successful Italian-American newspaper Il Progresso, and Pope grew up in luxury. He was driven to school at Horace Mann in a limousine each morning, often accompanied by his friend and classmate Roy Cohn. (Cohn later became an aide to Joseph McCarthy and a mentor to Donald Trump; he represented Trump in the 1973 Justice Department case that accused his company of violating the Fair Housing Act.) According to “The Godfather of Tabloid,” by Jack Vitek, Pope breezed through M.I.T. and did a brief stint in the C.I.A., then in its infancy, before returning, in 1952, to New York, where he struck out on his own, buying a moribund Hearst weekly and rechristening it the National Enquirer.

Pope was a dour and mysterious character, who exerted almost total control over the Enquirer for thirty-six years. The early days, during which he attempted to brand the Enquirer as a serious, upscale weekly, were rocky. As Pope later told the tale, he had an epiphany one day when he found himself gazing at a particularly gruesome traffic accident, and noticed how many other people had also stopped to stare. “It suddenly hit me,” Pope recalled. “That’s what people want to see. That’s what I’ll give them, blood and gore.”

In the fifties and sixties, the formula was a resounding success. With headlines like “mom boiled her baby and ate her” and photographs of purported freaks of nature, such as two-headed babies, circulation soared to more than a million. The Enquirer developed a specialty in photographs of newly dead celebrities, and the paper scored a famous scoop with a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald on the autopsy table. (Dylan Howard found an original of that cover on eBay and displays it in his office.)

In the late sixties, Pope moved his operations to Florida, where he had another insight that transformed the magazine. At that point, the Enquirer was sold only through traditional venders, such as newsstands, but Pope pioneered the practice of putting magazines in supermarket checkout lines. This required him to scale back the gore (which was unacceptable to the markets) and amp up the celebrity coverage. The transformation proved a boon to business. So did a television campaign featuring the catchphrase “Enquiring minds want to know.” A cover photograph, in 1977, of Elvis Presley in his casket sold 6.7 million copies, an all-time record. (According to a former editor, the Enquirer had paid Elvis’s cousin Billy Mann eighteen thousand dollars for the image. In the past, the tabloid has paid anywhere from a few hundred dollars to six figures for scoops.) After Pope started printing the Enquirer in color, he used his old black-and-white presses to produce the Weekly World News, a compendium of true lunacy, often featuring space aliens, which was also a financial success, with as many as a million readers.

Pope died in 1988, when the Enquirer’s circulation was about four million, and the company fell into limbo. The Enquirer tabloids were eventually sold to Evercore, as a part of the A.M.I. deal, in 1999, and David Pecker became the C.E.O. Meanwhile, competitors were eating into the Enquirer’s circulation. Rupert Murdoch had started the Star, and a Canadian publisher named Mike Rosenbloom had launched a series of look-alike tabloids called the Globe, the Examiner, and the Sun. Pecker quickly took steps to crush the competition. He bought the Star and Rosenbloom’s magazines, and closed the Weekly World News. He also relocated the operation to Rosenbloom’s old headquarters, in Boca Raton. Kevin Hyson, Pecker’s longtime deputy at A.M.I., told me, “He renovated the entire building, spent five or six million dollars, and the building was beautiful, and it came out great, and it was virtually all done. The cafeteria was just about to open, when we were attacked.”

In late September, 2001, Bob Stevens, a sixty-three-year-old photo editor at the Sun, fell ill. On October 2nd, he checked into a local hospital and was later given a diagnosis of inhalation anthrax. On Stevens’s desk, in the A.M.I. building, investigators discovered an envelope containing powdered anthrax and addressed to the “photo editor” of the Sun. Stevens died on October 5th, becoming the first anthrax fatality in the United States since 1976. In short order, the Centers for Disease Control closed the Enquirer building, and most of the employees never set foot inside it again. The structure was so contaminated that all of its contents were destroyed in 2003; the Enquirer’s archive, including photographs, back issues, and notes, was lost in the process.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Karen McDougal, a Playboy Playmate, claimed to have had an affair with Trump during his marriage to Melania. Pecker hired McDougal as a columnist and paid her a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the rights to the story, which he never published. “The guy’s a personal friend of mine,” Pecker said.

Photograph by Mark Peterson / Redux for The New Yorker

During the outbreak, Pecker offered to bring in a team of doctors to dispense Cipro, an antibiotic, to hundreds of employees at his own expense. (Only one other employee was exposed to anthrax, and he survived.) Pecker also located alternative offices. “He protected his people,” Hyson said. “And we never missed an issue.” As a former Enquirer staffer, who was generally critical of Pecker, told me, “This was his finest hour.” (No arrests were ever made in the 2001 anthrax attacks, which ultimately killed four people in addition to Stevens. Bruce Ivins, a government scientist who was a leading suspect, committed suicide in 2008.)

By the time of the anthrax attack, the market for tabloids was shrinking. Competition from the Internet, the decline of print, and the growth of gossip shows on cable television had combined to cut into circulation numbers. Still, there was a core market for Pecker’s products, and he raised prices for his remaining customers. The Enquirer cost a dollar and forty-nine cents when Pecker bought it; the current price is four dollars and ninety-nine cents. He also targeted his tabloids to specific age groups. OK! and US Weekly, the newest A.M.I. magazine, have the youngest and most affluent readers, most of whom are in their late thirties and forties and gravitate toward Hollywood gossip. The Enquirer appeals to people in their fifties, who like investigations. The Globe is pitched to buyers in their sixties, who are fascinated by the British Royal Family and loathe Hillary Clinton. According to Pecker, “They love to read the worst possible, horrible things you could read about Hillary.” (A recent Globe headline asserted, “hillary: the real russian spy! . . . new treason indictment!”) The oldest audience buys the Examiner, whose readers, remarkably, average eighty years old. “They have the lowest income,” Dylan Howard told me. “We do a lot of giveaways for them, and stories about ‘The Golden Girls.’ ” As Pecker said to me, “The people that pay those five dollars, we get a spike the week that they get their Social Security checks. And then they pay us down from there, and then it spikes again. So they actually budget for it.”

Pecker and I had lunch in May, just after Tiger Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, and the occasion evoked some wistfulness about the difficulty of publishing a weekly magazine in a world that operates at the pace of the Internet. “That jail photo—we would have had that first,” Pecker told me, referring to Woods’s mug shot. “We would have shown the ‘before’ and ‘after’ on the cover of the Enquirer.” Instead, Woods’s booking photo hit the Internet well before the tabloid could run it in the magazine.

Pecker’s relationship with Woods suggests how he’s leveraged his brands even in a declining market. In 2007, the magazine’s tip line received a call claiming that Woods was having trysts with a waitress named Mindy Lawton, who worked at a diner near his home in Orlando. The tipster was Lawton’s mother. As Pecker recalled, “She said her daughter serves him, and then she has a relationship with Tiger, and she goes out to the parking lot behind there and they have sex together.”

After talking to Lawton’s mother, Enquirer reporters staked out the parking lot by the diner, and they saw Woods and Lawton together. “What happened was, Tiger gets into the S.U.V., she came out of the restaurant,” Pecker told me. “The Enquirer guys were behind the bushes and she must have had her period, so she threw the tampon and they grabbed it.” After the obligatory comment call to Woods, Pecker received a phone call from Mark Steinberg, Woods’s agent.

Men’s Fitness had asked Woods to appear on its cover several times, but he had always declined. A negotiation ensued, whereby Woods would pose for the magazine’s cover in return for a cancelled story in the Enquirer about the diner tryst. Neal Boulton, the editor of Men’s Fitness at the time, recalled, “Pecker was all over me about the negotiations with Tiger’s people.” Boulton quit before the Woods cover was published. “I allowed myself to get sucked into this situation,” he told me. “I just felt pretty lousy about it all.” (Lawton, Steinberg, and Woods declined to comment; Lawton’s mother could not be reached for comment.)

Pecker didn’t see the negotiation as blackmail. “I was never going to run any of it, because I’d be thrown out of Walmart tomorrow,” he said, referring to the parking-lot encounter’s unsavory details. Twenty-three per cent of the Enquirer’s sales come from Walmart, and the next biggest outlet is the Kroger supermarket chain, at ten per cent; chain stores account for roughly three-quarters of total sales. There are no formal rules for the level of explicitness or vulgarity that the chains will tolerate, but Pecker is careful not to push the limits. In the end, he scored dual victories with Woods: the golfer posed for the cover of Men’s Fitness, and later the affair appeared in the skybox of the Enquirer. Woods’s marriage and career dissolved not long afterward.

Steinberg’s attempt to negotiate with the Enquirer was unusual. For celebrities in the tabloid’s gaze, there are often only two options. Marty Singer, a Beverly Hills attorney who represents many subjects of Enquirer stories, told me that the publication will back down in the face of contrary evidence. “You can’t just tell them that a story is wrong,” Singer said. “But, if you present actual evidence that it’s wrong, they usually will respond appropriately.” (Libel suits against the Enquirer are rare these days, though in 2014 the magazine settled a case filed by a friend of Philip Seymour Hoffman, apologizing for a false story in connection with the actor’s death and agreeing to fund an annual playwriting award in his name. Richard Simmons, the fitness guru, recently sued the Enquirer for libel based on stories alleging that he had disappeared from public view because he was transitioning into a woman; the case is pending.)

The other approach is a fatalistic withdrawal from the Enquirer ecosystem. “If the story is just in the tabloids, we tend to ignore it,” Jon Liebman, the chief executive of Brillstein Entertainment Partners, a leading talent-management firm in Hollywood, whose clients include Brad Pitt, said. “If you engage in tabloid culture, it will never stop, because the tabloid culture feeds on the conversation. If you respond, they just turn your response into a story. But if the fire jumps the road, and a story gets into the mainstream press, then we deal with it.” Politicians almost never engage.

For Pecker, the Tiger Woods story encapsulates the grim ethos of Enquirer readers. “Do they care about Tiger Woods? No,” Pecker said. “Do they play golf? No. But do they want to read about his indiscretions? Yes. Do they want to read that someone who is that successful is now failing? Yes. These are people that live their life failing, so they want to read negative things about people who have gone up and then come down.”

After Pecker acquired A.M.I., his friendship with Trump deepened. Pecker joined Mar-a-Lago in 2003 and attended Donald’s marriage to Melania there in 2005. When Pecker gave a speech at Pace, his alma mater, Trump introduced him. The Enquirer held its ninetieth-birthday celebration at the Trump SoHo Hotel. Pecker was also invited to a lavish wedding that Trump organized for his ex-wife Ivana, in 2008. “Donald threw this unbelievable party for her at Mar-a-Lago—maybe seven or eight hundred people,” Pecker told me. (Ivana’s marriage, to Rossano Rubicondi, an Italian model and actor more than twenty years her junior, ended in less than a year.) Pecker hired Ivana to write an advice column for the Globe, but later replaced her with Debbie Reynolds. When Pecker got to know Jared Kushner, the pair bonded over their interest in the media and considered doing business together. (Jared has owned the New York Observer, which was once a weekly, since 2006.)

Trump has a great affection for venerable media institutions like the Enquirer, according to a longtime associate: “Donald came up in the seventies and eighties, and he still loves the iconic brands, and the National Enquirer was an institution in those days. It reached millions of people. Even though it’s smaller now, Donald’s mindset is that it’s an influential publication. And he reaches out to those readers when no one else will.” Trump’s personal relationship with Pecker facilitated that outreach.

A former Enquirer employee told me that Pecker would frequently fly from New York to Palm Beach and back on Trump’s private plane. “David thought Donald walked on water,” the employee said. “Donald treated David like a little puppy. Donald liked being flattered, and David thought Donald was the king. Both have similar management styles, similar attitudes, starting with absolute superiority over anybody else.” In the eighties and early nineties, Trump was something of a fixture in the Enquirer, thanks to his multiple marriages. A typical headline from 1990 read “trump’s mistress cheats on donald with tom cruise.” But, once Pecker took over, critical coverage of Trump vanished. “They have an agreement where David would not write anything that damages Donald,” a senior A.M.I. official from this period told me.

One employee said that Trump was also a frequent source for Enquirer stories. “When there was something going on in New York, David would talk with Trump about it. Trump provided David with stories directly,” the employee said. “And, if Donald didn’t want a story to run, it wouldn’t run. You can put that in stone.” Indeed, early in the 2016 campaign Pecker simply turned over the pages of the Enquirer to Trump, allowing the candidate to write columns under his own byline.

Because of Pecker’s close ties with the President, rumors have circulated that the publisher is in line for an ambassadorship. Pecker denies any interest in such a post. Dave Zinczenko, who oversaw several of Pecker’s fitness magazines, told me, “We were having lunch around the time the ambassador story first circulated. He laughed about it. He said that Germany or the U.K. would be too much work. It’s clear he doesn’t want to be an ambassador. It would take him out of the game.” (Pecker said that he would welcome an appointment to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, a part-time, unpaid, and honorary post.)

If anything, Pecker may further entrench himself in the media business. In 2013, just before Time, Inc., separated from its longtime parent company, Time Warner, Trump devoted a telling series of tweets to Pecker. “David Pecker would be a brilliant choice as CEO of time Magazine—nobody could bring it back like David!” Trump wrote. “@time Magazine should definitely pick David Pecker to run things over there—he’d make it exciting and win awards!” Ron Burkle, a California supermarket magnate and a friend of Pecker’s, recalled, “I know they were considering him to be C.E.O. when Time magazine spun off. He hasn’t had a decent balance sheet for as long as I’ve known him, but he figures out how to make his numbers work and keep his businesses going. But the boards of companies like Time Warner can be very political, and they weren’t going to turn the company over to the guy who runs the Enquirer.” At the time, it did seem outlandish that the steward of a supermarket-tabloid empire would wind up as the proprietor of a storied name in American journalism. But the idea of Pecker as the leader of Time, Inc., like that of Trump as the President of the United States, has gone from preposterous to more than possible.

Pecker has proved to be a canny leader in a difficult time for print publications. After the recession in 2010, the company reorganized under bankruptcy laws. Evercore sold its original equity stake in 2002, and in the past two decades A.M.I. has had various owners, with a changing cast of board members, but always with Pecker as chief executive. The current board includes David Hughes, who spent many years as a senior executive in Trump’s casino business. At A.M.I. board meetings, which are often held at Mar-a-Lago, Pecker boasts of his relentless cost-cutting at the magazines. (Dylan Howard told me that Pecker reduced editorial expenses by fifty-two per cent over four years, while producing the same number of magazines.) Pecker has a handsome salary, but not one that places him in the top ranks of media entrepreneurs. According to S.E.C. filings, A.M.I. paid Pecker $3.1 million last year. The over-all decline in the marketplace, notwithstanding, Pecker persuaded the board to put up a hundred million dollars to buy US Weekly from Wenner. The US Weekly staff, much reduced by layoffs, now works alongside the tabloid employees in the Manhattan newsroom.

Pecker remains interested in running Time, Inc., with its stable of weeklies, including Time, Sports Illustrated, and the great prize, People. For a while, the company was shopping itself to potential buyers, and though it’s not officially on the market, these sorts of auctions generally end, sooner or later, with a sale. A.M.I. faces many of the same financial challenges as Time, Inc., and an adviser to Pecker describes the prospect of a merger between them as “two drunks trying to hold each other up.” But both companies own some of the last weeklies in the country, and a merger would mean efficiencies in printing and distribution. Pecker couldn’t buy Time, Inc., on his own, however. He would need, as with Evercore and A.M.I., a deep-pocketed partner, and he’s looking to find one. “I think that there’s a huge opportunity,” Pecker said.

At a time when many print publications have disappeared, the readers and employees of Time, Inc., can expect that Pecker, with his disciplined regimen of cost-cutting, usually in the form of layoffs, would keep the company’s venerable titles alive. But Time and the other magazines would survive, as the Enquirer does, as vehicles for Pecker’s cultivation of his friend, the President. That’s what happened when Pecker bought US Weekly, which has heretofore largely been apolitical in its orientation. In one of the early issues of US Weekly under Pecker’s leadership, the magazine ran a fawning cover story about Ivanka Trump. “Balancing her personal ideals with love and loyalty to her father,” the cover said, “the president’s daughter will always fight for what she believes in.” ♦

This article appears in other versions of the July 3, 2017, issue, with the headline “Feeding the Beast.”

CONSTITUTIONAL ROT (is what we got)

I pulled this off the WWW . . . the words/thoughts/ideas/opinions of Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin. 


fixing any typos or major grammar goofs and highlighting and bolding or underlining here and there.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Balkin  . . .

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trumping the Constitution

Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law

Yesterday I gave a talk at a Yale Law School Alumni luncheon in New York City.  This is a summary of my remarks. (It is not a transcript—I spoke from notes.)

* * * * *

When you think about politics these days, it’s hard to avoid focusing on Donald Trump’s remarkable rise to power and his even more remarkable presidency. It’s even harder to avoid thinking about the scandals swirling around him day to day. It’s not that I don’t think these are important. But they are not the subject of today’s talk.  In this talk, I want to look at the big picture. In this picture, Trump is merely a symptom. He is a symptom of a serious problem with our political and constitutional system.

Because Trump’s method is to provoke outrage and fluster his opponents, many people have wondered whether we are currently in some sort of constitutional crisis.  We are not. Rather, we are in a period of constitutional rot.

By “constitutional rot,” I mean the decay of features of our system that keep it a healthy republic.  Constitutional rot, which has been going on for some time, has produced our current dysfunctional politics.

Constitutional dysfunction isn’t the same thing as gridlock—after all, the three branches of government are currently controlled by the same party. Rather, it is a problem of representation. Over time, our political system has become less democratic and less republican. It is increasingly oligarchical.

By “democratic,” I mean responsive to popular will and popular opinion. By “republican,” I mean that representatives are devoted to the public good, and responsive to the interests of public as a whole—as opposed to a small group of powerful individuals and groups. When representatives are responsive not to the interests of the public in general but to a relatively small group of individuals and groups, we have oligarchy.

Republics are especially susceptible to constitutional rot

Republics are premised on pursuit of the common good. Representatives are given power for the sole purpose of pursuing the public good. The Framers understood that republics are fragile things. They are easily corrupted, and over time, they are likely to turn into oligarchies or autocracies.

When a government becomes oligarchical, leaders spend less and less time working for the public good. Instead, they spend more and more time enriching a small group of important backers that keep them in power. Because the general public feels abandoned by politicians, it gradually loses faith in the political system. This leads to the rise of demagogues, who flatter people with promises that they will make everything right again.

Oligarchy has resulted from the gradual breakdown of the party system that selects candidates and makes political parties responsive to the public, as well as from changes in how political campaigns are financed and changes in the structure of mass media. The problem has occurred in both parties, but it is especially pronounced in the Republican party, which styles itself as a populist party but is anything but. A small class of wealthy donors has disproportionate control over the Republican policy agenda. The influence of the donor class over that agenda is the best explanation of developments in Congress.

What are the deeper causes of constitutional rot? There are four interlocking features, which we might call the Four Horsemen of Constitutional Rot: (1) political polarization; (2) loss of trust in government; (3) increasing economic inequality; and (4) policy disasters, a term coined by Stephen Griffin to describe important failures in decision making by our representatives, like the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and the 2008 financial crisis.

Today, one of the most important, overarching policy failures is America’s inadequate response to globalization. The 2008 financial crisis is a special case of this larger policy failure. A democracy requires a stable, economically secure middle class to create the right incentives for government officials to pursue the public good. A globalized economy puts serious pressure on social insurance programs and on the economic stability and self-sufficiency of Americans. Political and economic elites have not navigated globalization’s changes well. They have taken pretty good care of themselves, but they have not taken care of the whole country. This inadequate response to globalization has hastened constitutional rot.

These four horsemen—polarization, loss of trust, economic inequality, and policy disaster— mutually reinforce each other.  Political scientists have pointed out that rising economic inequality exacerbates polarization, which in turn helps produce policies that exacerbate inequality.  Rising inequality and polarization also encourage loss of trust.  Polarization and oligarchy create overconfidence and insulate decision makers from necessary criticism, which makes policy disasters more likely; policy disasters, in turn, further undermine trust in government, and so on.

In an oligarchical system, regardless of its formal legal characteristics, a relatively small number of backers effectively decide who stays in power. In such a system, politicians will have strong incentives to divert resources to the relatively small group of backers who keep them in power. Not surprisingly, the power of government and resources for government are often wasted or diverted from important public goods. Our constitutional system is still formally democratic but has become more oligarchical in practice over time. As a result, the United States has wasted a great deal of money on policy disasters, it has shaped the tax code so that most of the benefits of economic growth have gone to the wealthiest Americans, and through unwise tax and fiscal policy it has diverted a lot of money that could have been used for public services and public goods to the wealthy.

Constitutional defenses against constitutional rot

Our Constitution is designed to ward off both oligarchy and demagogues and preserve a republic. For the most part, it has been quite successful in the face of a wide variety of changes and challenges. Some of these features of our constitutional system, however, don’t work very well any more in preventing oligarchical tendencies.   Separation of powers between Congress and the President is a good example. Rick Pildes and Darryl Levinson have pointed out that our system is better described as separation of parties rather than separation of powers.  When the President and Congress are from the same party, there will be little oversight of the President. The Republican Congress’s almost complete disinterest in checking Trump is a particularly worrisome example of this.

Even so, the United States still has many other republican defenses. We still have an independent judiciary, regular elections, and a free press. Many other countries that have eventually succumbed to autocracy are not so fortunate. Moreover, in the United States, from the Founding forward, lawyers have played a crucial role in defending the republic: in staffing an independent judiciary; in promoting rule of law values in the bureaucracy; and in bringing cases to protect constitutional rights and check executive overreach. Once again, many other countries that have become autocratic are not as fortunate as the United States.

Propaganda and constitutional rot

One should not underestimate the value of our free press, even as comes under assault from the Trump Administration. Reporters have not been cowed into silence as they have been in other countries.  If anything, Trump’s shenanigans and his successful manipulation of the press in 2016 have caused the press to think more deeply about its democratic responsibilities.

Even so, the power of the press to protect republican government has been weakened.   Part of this is due to economics, and part of it is due to other factors.  The American system of freedom of the press was undermined in 2016, not by censorship but by Trump’s very effective hacking of the media; he is both a master manipulator and an effective demagogue in the digital era.

The system of free press was also undermined by the production of effective propaganda both from within the United States and from outside it. These two forms of propaganda come from different sources but they reinforced each other in a perfect storm in 2016.

We now have domestic propaganda machines that have thrown their support behind Trump, and now engage in the shameless forms of propaganda which would have done Soviet-era apparatchiks proud. The only difference is that instead of propping up communism, they prop up Trump. In addition, Russia and allied groups in Eastern Europe engaged in successful propaganda campaigns during the 2016 election season, designed to enhance Trump’s chances and sow discord and confusion in the United States.

Propaganda’s effects corrode republican institutions and encourage constitutional rot. Propaganda enhances polarization; it increases distrust of political opponents, as well as those elements of government held by one’s political opponents.

Propaganda seeks to foster controversies that divide the country and enhance mutual distrust and hatred among fellow citizens. It seeks to convert politics into a particularly brutal opposition between virtuous friends and evil enemies who must be stopped at all costs and by any means necessary.

Propaganda also undermines the crucial role of deliberation and the search for truth in a democracy. Propaganda attempts to put everything in dispute, so that nothing can be established as true, and everything becomes a matter of personal opinion or partisan belief.  Because everything is a matter of opinion, one can assume that anything a political opponent says can be disregarded, and that factual claims contrary to one’s own beliefs can also be disregarded. Thus, successful propaganda builds on motivated reasoning and encourages even more motivated reasoning.  It undermines shared criteria of reasoning, good faith attempts at deliberation and mutual accommodation between political opponents in democracies.

Moreover, if people stop believing in the truth of what they read, they don’t have to think hard about political questions. Instead, they can simply make political decisions based on identity or affiliation with their political allies. Propaganda, in other words, undermines truth to destroy the concept of the public good and to encourage tribalism.

As a political system becomes increasingly oligarchical, it also becomes less equal, more polarized, and generates greater distrust, both of government in general and of political opponents. People not only lose trust in government, but in other people who disagree with them.  Political opponents appear less as fellow citizens devoted to the common good and more like internal threats to the nation.

Another way of putting it is that in a well-functioning republic, there are friends and potential friends. Potential friends are people you currently disagree with, but might ally with in the future because both of you are devoted to the public good.  In system of constitutional rot, you have something like Carl Schmitt’s model of friends and enemies. From this perspective, Schmitt’s friend/enemy distinction is a corruption of politics, rather than its essential nature.

Trump as a symptom of constitutional rot

Loss of trust in the government and in political opponents eventually produces demagogues who attempt to take advantage of the situation. Demagogues don’t spring up unawares. People see them coming from miles away. But by this point people have so lost faith in government that they are willing to gamble on a demagogue. They hope that the demagogue can make things right again and restore past glories.

Trump is a demagogue. We might even say that he is straight out of central casting for demagogues: unruly, uncouth, mendacious, dishonest and cunning.  His rise is a symptom of constitutional rot and constitutional dysfunction. Constitutional rot not only allowed Trump to rise to power; he also has incentives to increase and exacerbate constitutional rot to stay in power. Many of his actions as president—and his media strategy—make sense from this perspective.

Polarization helps keep Trump in power, because it binds his supporters to him. He exacerbates polarization by fomenting outrage and internal division. He also confuses and distracts people, keeping them off balance and in a state of emotional upheaval. Emotional upheaval, in turn increases fear and fear enhances mutual distrust.

Trump doesn’t care if his opponents hate him, as long as his base hates and fears his political opponents more.  Because his supporters hate and fear his enemies, they are more likely to cling to him, because they are quite certain that his enemies are even worse.

Polarization also helps keeps most professional politicians in his party from abandoning him. Many Republican politicians do not trust Trump and many regard him as unqualified. But if Republican politicians turn on Trump, they will be unable to achieve anything during a period in which they control both Congress and the White House. This will infuriate the base and anger the wealthy group of donors who help keep Republicans in power. Republican politicians who oppose Trump may face primary challenges. Finally, Republican politicians can’t be sure that enough of their fellow politicians will follow them if they stick their necks out. In fact, they may provoke a civil war within the Republican Party, in which Trump’s supporters accuse them of stabbing Trump (and the party) in the back.

Many people think that the sense of upheaval that Trump has created in American politics means that he cannot keep going this way for long; and that his presidency is about to crack apart at any moment. This is a mistake. Polarization and upheaval are good for him. Crisis is his brand.

Why Trump has been a populist turncoat

If you understand the relationship between polarization and oligarchy you will understand a remarkable feature of American politics. Although Trump ran as a populist who promised to protect the working class from the depredations of globalization, as soon as he entered the White House, he reversed course. His cabinet is full of wealthy individuals, and many of his top advisors are from the very financial class that he excoriated in his campaign. Moreover, he has quickly allied himself with the most conservative elements of the Republican Party, and he has supported a health care bill that is likely to harm many working class Americans.

The Republican Party in Congress depends on its donor class to stay in power. The central goal of the Republican agenda, therefore, is to deliver benefits to the donor class, either through tax cuts, government expenditures, or deregulation.

The current health care bill passed in the House and awaiting action in the Senate is a case in point. It is actually a tax cut disguised as a health care measure. It offers a 600 billion dollar tax cut to the wealthiest Americans, which it pays for by removing some of Obamacare’s insurance protections and gradually eliminating its Medicaid expansion. The health care bill’s tax cut also sets the revenue baseline that will be used to evaluate tax reform in the next fiscal year, when the Republicans will once again use the reconciliation procedure to pass a bill that cannot be filibustered.  By locking in tax cuts in the health care bill, Republicans make tax reforms easier to accomplish in ways that are more likely to please their donors.

From the standpoint of populism, the health care bill is an utter travesty; it withdraws important benefits and protections from working class Americans to benefit the very wealthiest. But it makes perfect sense from the standpoint of oligarchy. Even so-called moderate Republicans in the Senate depend heavily on the donor class, and therefore they face enormous pressures to cave and support the bill by adopting a face-saving (but ineffectual) compromise. Something similar happened in the House. Establishment and more moderate Republicans also caved, not because the Freedom Caucus is so powerful, but because the powerful donors who shape the party’s policy agenda wanted their tax cuts. Moreover, because the Senate bill is likely to be so unpopular among the general public, Senate Republicans are drafting it in secret, with no public hearings.  The actual text won’t be revealed until shortly before the vote is taken.  After all, as one Senate aide explained, the Republicans aren’t stupid. They know that the bill is toxic. But it pleases their donors, and so they will sacrifice any pretense of procedural regularity to achieve their goals.

The health care bill is a prime example of constitutional rot. Our nominally republican system of government has become so infected by oligarchy that the party in power has no scruples about acting in an entirely shameless manner, as long as the interests of its masters are well-served.

Which brings us back to Trump’s about face. Trump ran as a populist but he now governs as a sellout. This is not an unusual phenomenon among populist revolutionaries. Once they take power, they often quickly discard the people who put them in power; they substitute new backers who are easier to deal with and/or pay off to stay in power.

Trump is a huckster, with few actual ideological commitments. So he has few qualms about changing course. It is much easier for Trump to ally himself with Congressional Republicans than to attempt a seriously populist legislative agenda, which would be very costly, and would be opposed by members of his own party. Working across the aisle with Democrats is unlikely because of the very polarization Trump has helped foster. Democrats do not trust him and working with them might lead his Republican allies in Congress to abandon him.  And he needs loyalty among Republicans to fend off the scandals swirling around him.

Thus, ironically, Trump’s very strategies for gaining power—dividing the country and fomenting mutual hatred—mean that he should align his policies with members of his own party against the Democrats. That means that he will not govern as an economic populist, although his rhetoric will remain rabidly populist. But there will be little substance behind it. It is far easier to align with Congressional Republicans, who will protect him from Democrats who despise him and want to topple him with scandals.

Having cast his lot with Congressional Republicans, that means that he too, will serve the same donor class. Trump may have run a populist campaign, but now that he is in power, he has pretty much embraced oligarchy. His populism is mostly sloganeering—it is a Potemkin village.  We might say that it takes a Potemkin village to make a Trump presidency.

The future

That’s the bad news. Here is the good news.

First, Trump represents the end of a cycle of politics rather than the future of politics.  American politics is divided into regimes in which one party’s agenda tends to dominate. Eventually that party runs out of steam, its coalition fragments, its political agenda becomes irrelevant and inadequate to current problems, and the evolution of the political system undermines it.

Trump is the last president in the Reagan regime. During this period, the dominant party was the Republican Party; the regime’s policy agenda was tax cuts and deregulation above all; its coalition was white voters plus professionals and wealthy business elites; and it fostered and exacerbated the polarization of political parties that began with the 1968 election.

The Reagan regime’s electoral coalition is falling apart; from 1992 to 2016, the Republican Party won the presidential popular vote only once; twice the party has had to depend on an electoral college victory. This is a sign of weakness, not strength.

The regime is crumbling; Trump is the last Reaganite. In the next few election cycles, a new regime will begin, offering the possibility of a new beginning in American politics.

Second, despite the influx of propaganda and the decline of separation of powers in restraining the President, many features of the constitutional system remain robust.  We still have an independent judiciary, a free press, and regular elections.

Third, we should not confuse what’s been happening in the past several months with constitutional crisis. Constitutional crisis means that the Constitution is no longer able to keep disagreement within politics; as a result people go outside the law and/or turn to violence or insurrection. However unpleasant our politics may be, all of our current struggles are still within politics.

Fourth, we are headed for a big showdown in electoral politics over the next several election cycles.  One of the two parties will have to find a way to restore trust in government and renounce oligarchical politics.  The next decade will tell the tale. I remain hopeful.

Even if Trump left office tomorrow, and were replaced with Mike Pence, there would still have to be a reckoning over these issues. Indeed, even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, there would still have to be a reckoning—perhaps even more urgently if Clinton won, because she ran a campaign that paid so little attention to populist concerns. The United States has failed to reconcile globalization with democracy.  It has not accommodated the demands of republican government to global economic change. This is a serious policy failure, and it has contributed to constitutional rot. The bill for this neglect is coming due. We will have to pay it.

The central question is how to preserve republican government in the face of a changing global  economy.  Trump is a merely symptom of the larger problem. So my advice to you is: keep your eye on the larger issue, and not on the President’s latest tweets.

I believe we will get through this, together. But we have to pay attention to the real sources of constitutional dysfunction, and preserve our republic. In this task, lawyers like the people in this room today have an important role to play in defending the Constitution and the rule of law. Thank you very much.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Constitutional Rot and Constitutional Crisis


No one could accuse Donald Trump’s presidency of being boring.  The first hundred days have careened wildly through scandals, revelations, outrages, and fracturing of political norms. Every time Trump does something remarkable, like the recent firing of Director James Comey, pundits ask whether we are in a constitutional crisis.

However, as I noted in a previous post, constitutional crisis refers to something different: A constitutional crisis occurs when there is a serious danger that the Constitution is about to fail at its central task of keeping disagreement within the boundaries of ordinary politics instead of breaking down into lawlessness, anarchy, violence, or civil war.

As Sandy Levinson and I have explained, there are three types of constitutional crises. In Type One crises, political leaders announce that they will no longer abide by the Constitution or laws (for example, because of emergency), or they openly flout judicial orders directed at them. In Type Two crises, people follow what they believe the Constitution requires, leading to political paralysis or disaster. In Type Three crises, political disagreement about the Constitution becomes so intense that the struggle goes beyond the bounds of ordinary politics. People take to the streets; there are riots; the military is called out to restore order (or suppress dissent); political figures threaten violence or engage in political violence; or parts of the country revolt and/or attempt to secede,

Constitutional crisis is very rare, and nothing that has yet happened in the Trump Administration — including the Comey firing– comes even close. But people are right to think that something important– and dangerous–is happening to our political institutions.  That is why, I think, people so often reach for the term “constitutional crisis” to describe it.

In this essay, I want to introduce a new idea to explain our current predicament. I will distinguish constitutional crisis, which is very rare, from a different phenomenon, which I think better describes what is happening in the United States today. This is the idea of constitutional rot.

Although the Comey firing is not an example of constitutional crisis, it is an example of constitutional rot.  For this reason, people are right to worry about it.

Constitutional Rot: Decay in the Norms and Institutions that Support Democracy

What is the difference between constitutional crisis and constitutional rot? Constitutional crisis could, in theory, happen to any constitution; constitutional rot is a specific malady of constitutions of representative democracies—that is, republics. Constitutional crisis occurs during relatively brief periods of time; constitutional rot is a degradation of constitutional norms that may operate over long periods of time.

What is constitutional rot? Democratic constitutions depend on more than obedience to law. They depend on well-functioning institutions that balance and check power and ambition. These include not only public institutions but institutions of civil society like the press.

Next, democracies depend on the public’s trust that government officials will exercise power in the public interest and not for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of private interests and cronies.

Democracies also depend on forbearance on the part of public officials in their assertions of power, and obedience to norms of fair political competition. These norms prevent ambitious politicians from overreaching and undermining public trust. These norms help to promote cooperation between political opponents and factions even when they disagree strongly about how to govern the country. Finally, these norms prevent politicians from privileging short term political gains over long term injuries to the health of the constitutional system.

When politicians disregard norms of fair political competition, undermine public trust, and repeatedly overreach by using constitutional hardball to rig the system in their favor, they cause the system of democratic (and republican) constitutionalism to decay. This is the phenomenon of constitutional rot.

The idea of constitutional rot is very old. The political theory of republicanism familiar to Constitution’s founders asserted that republics were delicate institutions that were always susceptible to decay and corruption over time.   Time was the great enemy of republics, because ever-changing circumstances, and the driving force of people’s ambitions and desire for power would open the door to—if not encourage—multiple forms of institutional corruption. In modern democratic republics, this institutional corruption is a version of constitutional rot.

The Dangers of Constitutional Rot

Constitutional rot creates two serious risks to democratic politics. First, by playing too much hardball, demonizing their opposition, and attempting to crush those who stand in their way, political actors risk increasing and widening cycles of retribution from their opponents. This may lead to deadlock and a political system that is increasingly unable to govern effectively.

Second, undermining or destroying norms of political fair play and using hardball tactics to preempt political competition may produce a gradual descent into authoritarian or autocratic politics.  Such states may preserve the empty form of representative democracy—they may have written constitutions and regular elections; and they may adhere for the most part to the rule of law formalities. But power is increasingly concentrated and unaccountable; the press, civil society, political opponents, civil servants and the judiciary no longer serve as independent checks on the power of the people in charge. Indeed, political leaders may systematically seek to weaken or co-opt each of these possible sources of opposition. These features of constitutional rot are likely to lead to increasing corruption, overreaching, and suppression of basic liberties. Regimes that slide into autocracy or authoritarianism may not suffer constitutional crises in the sense that they are politically stable and successfully avoid civil unrest or civil war. But they have failed as democratic constitutional systems; increasingly they are democracies in name only.

Obviously these two risks—deadlock and descent into autocracy—are related.  A system that has become so deadlocked that politics seems futile may lead to the election of demagogues and authoritarian minded politicians who undermine democratic norms and lead a nation toward autocracy.

There are important literatures emerging on these questions in political science, including the study of hybrid regimes that split the difference between autocracy and democracy, and the phenomenon of democratic backsliding, which we have seen in places like Hungary and Turkey. This January, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq, writing on this blog, offered an account of what they call constitutional retrogression.  (This is an opening statement of a larger project they are working on, How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy.) All of these ideas are related to what I am calling constitutional rot.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not claiming that the United States has already slid into autocracy, or that we have already produced anything like the democratic backsliding we see in Hungary or Turkey.  Our institutions remain far more robust. And indeed, as the incurable optimist that I am, I believe that our democratic institutions are resilient enough to push back against the depredations of a demagogue like Trump. But what many Americans increasingly sense, I think, is that our democratic institutions are decaying and/or are under assault.  If nothing is done to halt the decay, we will eventually be in very big trouble.

III. How Constitutional Rot Relates to Constitutional Crisis

What is the relationship between constitutional crisis and constitutional rot?  The two phenomena are not identical. As noted above, the question of constitutional crisis concerns whether the constitutional system can perform its central function of making politics possible—keeping struggles for power within politics and preventing violence, insurrection, and civil war.  The three types of constitutional crises listed above can occur in many different kinds of systems, whether democratic or not.  Constitutional rot, by contrast, is a feature of constitutional democracies and republics—it concerns how these systems degrade into deadlock and despair on the one hand, or into authoritarianism and autocracy on the other.

 There is another important distinction. The idea of “crisis” refers to a crucial moment in time—usually rather brief in duration—in which the constitutional system will adequately respond to a challenge, be undermined, or be successfully reconstituted.  Constitutional rot, by contrast, is often a long and slow process of change and debilitation, which may be the work of many hands over many years.  Crisis seems to come upon us suddenly—it focuses everyone’s attention on the spectacle.  Rot develops slowly and gradually and may be imperceptible in its earliest stages; sometimes features of constitutional rot are obvious, but sometimes they operate quietly in the background.

Even so, the two phenomena are connected.  Continued constitutional rot in a democratic system may be the harbinger of a constitutional crisis years later.  In his 2015 book, Broken Trust: Dysfunctional Government and Constitutional Reform, Steven Griffin has argued that the most important source of constitutional dysfunction in the United States is increasing loss of public trust among citizens. This loss of trust did not occur overnight; it is the result of decades of fateful decisions by political actors seeking short-term political success, stoking political polarization to win elections, and playing political hardball to lock in greater power and reduced accountability.  Griffin regards this as a sort of “slow-motion” constitutional crisis. I would say that it is a description of constitutional rot.

Constitutional rot in a democracy need not always lead to constitutional crisis. It might simply lead to a less just and less democratic system of government. This is what happens in slides to autocracy. Nevertheless, constitutional rot, if unchecked, can lead to a constitutional crisis, just as placing increasing weight on a rotten tree branch can eventually cause it to snap. Indeed, constitutional rot can lead to any one of the three types of constitutional crisis that Levinson and I described.

Politicians may publicly reject constitutional obligations. (Type One). The system may suffer severe crises of governance in which the state is unable to perform basic functions (Type Two).  Finally, loss of public trust combined with the rise of political opportunists and demagogues who stoke anger and resentment in their followers (or in their opponents) may produce cycles of political violence, or even insurrection (Type Three).

Constitutional rot, in other words, can eventually cause a democratic constitution to fail both as a *democratic* constitution—because the system degenerates into autocracy; and as a democratic *constitution*— because the constitution no longer can keep political disagreement within the bounds of law and peaceful political dispute.

My view is that we are not currently in a period of constitutional crisis. But for some time we have been in a period of increasing constitutional rot.  The election of a demagogue like Trump is evidence that our institutions have decayed, and judging by his presidential campaign and his first hundred days in office, Trump promises to accelerate the corruption.

Understanding the Comey Firing in Terms of Constitutional Rot

Similarly, Trump’s firing of James Comey was not in itself a constitutional crisis, because the President legally has the authority to fire the FBI Director. It happened once before, when Bill Clinton fired Director William Sessions because of ethics violations. Comey’s firing is not a constitutional crisis. Trump has not asserted (for example) that he is deliberately acting outside the Constitution.

Rather, Comey’s firing is a symptom of constitutional rot, and people have been employing the language of constitutional crisis to describe it.  This problem, I think, is related to what Steven Griffin meant when he suggested that we are in a “slow motion” constitutional crisis, one ultimately caused by lack of public trust in government.

Many Americans no longer trust government to act in the public interest, and many politicians act in ways that encourage their lack of trust. President Trump has violated many preexisting political norms, and our increasingly polarized politics has caused the nation’s two political parties to push the envelope through various forms of constitutional hardball.  When people in power no longer hesitate to use their power to its fullest extent, and when norms of fair political competition are pushed aside, the viability of our democratic constitutional system is threatened.

The real concern about James Comey’s firing as FBI Director is best understood in terms of constitutional rot. The FBI director serves for a 10 year term that is designed to span across presidential terms in office. The goal is to insulate the head of the nation’s investigative service from political pressure by politicians—and especially the President, who always retains the power to remove the director. Thus, the technical legal rule that the President can fire the director is accompanied by a more amorphous democratic norm; namely, the norm that the president should hesitate to remove a director except for very good reasons, and that the President should not remove a director in circumstances in which it might appear that the President is pressuring the FBI to compromise its investigative authority for political reasons.

The Comey firing violates this democratic norm. The circumstances of the firing, as well as Trump’s own shifting explanations for it, suggest that Trump acted out of corrupt motives. The concern is that Trump fired Comey because Trump sought to hinder ongoing investigations into connections between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government,  or between criminal enterprises (like money laundering) involving Russian oligarchs and Trump’s businesses.  Democratic norms exist to prevent even the appearance of political corruption. The worry is that the norm was violated in circumstances that scream conflict of interest and create the appearance of corrupt motivations—that Trump used his powers as President to obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation. If one could prove Trump’s intent to obstruct the FBI’s investigations, this would constitute a violation of federal obstruction of justice laws, and very likely constitute an impeachable offense to boot.

Loss of trust brought Trump to power and loss of trust keeps him in power despite his incompetence and venality.  Loss of trust has exacerbated political polarization– members of each party increasingly view the other as mortal enemies.  Polarization, in turn, sows increasing distrust, continuing the cycle.  Because of extreme polarization, Congressional Republicans feel they can’t afford to abandon Trump, even though many of them understand that he is a demagogue and unfit to be President. If they stand up to Trump, they fear that their base will punish them, and that Democrats will take advantage of them. If they spend time investigating or blocking Trump, they also fear that their policy goals will be derailed and their donors will punish them as well.  Hence Republicans keep their mouths shut and continue to enable Trump.  The inability to act caused by polarization is a form of institutional rot, which creates a space for Trump to continue to violate constitutional norms.

* * * * *

Constitutional rot does not occur all at once; it is a gradual process. The constitutional system in the United States may well be able to survive even Donald Trump’s misadventures. But Trump’s demagogic rise, his conduct of the presidency, and the inability (or unwillingness) of members of Congress to stop him, are signs that all is not well in American constitutional democracy. To paraphrase Shakespeare, something is rotten in the state of America. The limbs of the great tree of state are decaying. At some point, if we put too much weight on our democratic institutions, they will snap. Then we really will be in a constitutional crisis.

The language of constitutional rot is a better way to understand people’s recurrent use of “constitutional crisis” in describing the Trump Administration. There is currently no actual constitutional crisis in the United States. But if constitutional rot continues, we are living on borrowed time.

[UPDATE: For more on the problem of constitutional rot, see my June 14th speech to the Yale Law School Alums, Trumping the Constitution.]